|New York vs|
|96 - 88|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Lenny Wilkens can breathe easier. His job, at least for now, is safe.
The coach with more wins and losses than anyone in NBA history gained some job security Tuesday night despite coaching without a hand-picked assistant for the first time in his career as the New York Knicks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 96-88.
One day after his longtime confidant Dick Helm was forced to resign following a 34-point loss in the home opener, Wilkens gained his 1,316th career coaching victory.
"It was a must-win. We couldn't go 0-3, especially with the road trip we've got coming up. There's no way,'' Penny Hardaway said. "There's a little relief, but we can't stop here.''
Team president Isiah Thomas announced before the game that he "won't be coaching the New York Knicks,'' though he said he might accept a head coaching job with another organization later in his career.
Thomas' declaration stopped well short of a vote of confidence for Wilkens, who took over for the fired Don Chaney midway through last season. But the victory should quell, at least temporarily, speculation over whether Wilkens' job is secure.
"That was a warning shot,'' Knicks forward Michael Sweetney said of Helm's departure. "It let you know that things are going to happen if you don't get wins.''
Jamal Crawford scored 22 points, Stephon Marbury had 13 points and 12 assists and Nazr Mohammed scored 18.
Rookie Trevor Ariza also played a big part in the win, scoring eight consecutive points during a first-half run that broke the game open, then feeding Crawford for a layup as the shot clock expired to give the Knicks a 96-86 lead with 1:04 left that wrapped up New York's first win of the season.
Ariza, a 19-year-old second-round draft pick from UCLA, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
"We showed as a team that we can play at a high level, and when we play together we win,'' Ariza said.
Allen Iverson led Philadelphia with 29 points and 10 assists but committed nine of the Sixers' 28 turnovers. Andre Iguodala added 13 points and Willie Green 12.
New York led 17-16 before Sweetney started a 10-0 run with a finger roll. A jumper and a steal by Kurt Thomas were followed by a 17-footer, a dunk, a steal and two foul shots -- all by Ariza -- for a 27-16 lead.
Ariza had an 18-footer for the Knicks' first points of the second quarter, and a 3-pointer by Crawford gave them their first double-digit edge.
New York was ahead 55-42 at halftime after the Sixers closed with a 5-0 run, and a 9-0 run by Philadelphia late in the third quarter made it 75-67. But Sixers never pulled closer than eight in the fourth quarter.
"We're not playing with a sense of urgency. You'd think after a while guys would get the picture,'' Iverson said. "Coach says we play harder against each other in practice then against other teams. That's not good.''
Prior to the game, Thomas sought to dispel the perception he's the man-in-waiting to replace Wilkens as coach.
"I think in other cities you may be able to pull off GM-coach, but I don't think in this city you can do it,'' Thomas said. "Now, will I ever coach another team? That's possible. But as long as I'm the president of basketball operations in New York, I don't see myself coaching the New York Knicks. That's not going to happen while I'm here.''
Sixers GM Billy King said there should be a resolution to Glenn Robinson's status before the weekend. Robinson, who lost his starting job to Andre Iguodala, is eligible to come off the injured list Thursday. King said there have been no viable trade offers, and the 76ers are giving consideration to waiving Robinson. "There's all kinds of scenarios that could happen,'' King said. ... Knicks center Vin Baker did not play as Wilkens shortened his rotation to eight players.