He’ll makes his return to the site of his first stint as a head coach when the Knicks (9-15) visit the Pacers (12-12) on Friday.
Thomas went 131-115 as Indiana’s coach, losing in the first round of the playoffs in each of his three seasons. That was not good enough for Pacers management, which opted to fire Thomas after the 2002-03 season.
He’s fighting for his job in his first season as Knicks coach, although owner James Dolan reiterated earlier in the week that he will give Thomas the full season before determining his future.
New York has played better recently, winning three of their last five games. That’s given the Knicks confidence that they are finding their way under Thomas.
“Coach always knows what he’s doing,” Knicks forward Quentin Richardson said. “He’s always looking for ways to better the team. Whatever the situation, whether it’s a substitution or some type of change, it’s always for the better of the team.”
The player who has benefited the most from Thomas taking over for Larry Brown is center Eddy Curry, who is averaging 24.9 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last 11 games. He’s scored at least 20 points in each of those games, the longest such streak by a Knick since Patrick Ewing did it in 17 straight in 1993-94.
“I think I’ve got a lot more room to grow,” Curry said. “I think I’m definitely coming into my own right now. I just got to try to stay consistent in what I’m doing. If I don’t think my team is satisfied with my play, then that’s all that matters to me.”
Thomas also believes the team is turning a corner since Jared Jeffries is finally available. Jeffries, who missed the first 22 games due to a broken left wrist, had 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals in his first start to help New York to a 94-82 win over Atlanta on Wednesday.
“Defensively, he’s such a weapon,” Thomas said. “He gives you so many ways to play. He’s a luxury to have right now. Anything he gives you offensively is a bonus because that isn’t a reason that we brought him here.”
New York will be trying to halt Indiana’s five-game home winning streak. The Pacers welcomed Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson back to the lineup in a 101-90 victory over Detroit on Wednesday.
O’Neal (sore hamstring), Harrington (stomach ailment) and Jackson (suspension) all missed Monday’s 106-91 loss at Chicago, but came back to combine for 56 points against Detroit.
“It was certainly better than Monday night, that wasn’t any fun,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “It helps having Jermaine and Al.”
O’Neal was back after missing the last three games, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double and 11th of the season.
“Obviously, you want to take care of your home court and you want to play well in front of your hometown,” O’Neal said. “It’s good winning games at home.”
Jackson scored 14 points in his return after he was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. He was kicked off the bench by Carlisle in a 107-75 loss at Cleveland on Saturday.
“I think everybody has the attitude that the only thing we can control is to go out and play basketball,” Jackson said.
This is the second of three meetings between the teams. Harrington scored a season-high 32 points in a 109-95 victory on Nov. 4 as Indiana spoiled the Knicks’ home opener.