He was contacted as a last-second replacement for Mike Fratello on the day Don Chaney was fired as coach of the Knicks, thrown into a schedule calling for six games in nine days, asked to integrate Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway into the mix and forced to deal with playing-time problems that upset Shandon Anderson and Frank Williams and an injury that has sidelined leading scorer Allan Houston.

There was no honeymoon cruise for Lenny Wilkens, but the 66-year-old Hall of Fame coach has risen to every challenge in a way that belies much of the criticism he received before his firing at the end of last season in Toronto, where Vince Carter said the game had passed him by.

"It's kind of crazy to hear guys say things they've said about him because the game can't pass you by when your mind is still into it," Marbury said yesterday. "If his mind isn't there I can understand. But he understands the game, he played the game, and he's a Hall of Famer, coaching and playing.

"I think everybody can see we're getting better under him. So us playing the way we're playing is because of him."


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i wonder if the result under fratello would have been the same