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KNICK SHAKE-UP PAVES PATH FOR ISIAH TO COACH

Isiah Thomas waited two games and one awful loss by New York before orchestrating yet another shakeup that may lead to Thomas, the Knicks' president, taking over as the team's coach this season.

The Knicks announced Monday that assistant coach Dick Helm, Lenny Wilkens' long-time friend and top assistant for 20 years, had resigned and would be replaced by Brendan Suhr, who emerged as Thomas' righthand man in the Knicks' organization and is best known for being Chuck Daly's top lieutenant with the Pistons, Nets and Magic.

Wilkens said Monday that the 71-year-old Helm, whom he pulled out of retirement and brought to New York, had resigned for personal reasons. A source said that Thomas was considering a change for a long time and feels more confident with Suhr on the bench.

The stunning move leaves Wilkens with a staff that he either inherited or had little say in putting together. It is unprecedented for a coach of Wilkens' stature to work with a staff that he did not select.

When asked how it will feel not to have his trusted confidant at his side, Wilkens added: "Hopefully, Brendan will fill that for me."

Many league executives see Wilkens more than ever as a lame-duck coach who eventually will be replaced by Thomas or even Suhr, who has never been an NBA head coach but is regarded as an elite basketball tactician.

"He is one of the smartest minds in our game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Thomas' latest move comes two days after the Knicks suffered an embarrassing 34-point loss to Boston in their home opener. The Knicks are 0-2 going into tonight's home game against Philadelphia.

Around the rim

* The Mavericks fell behind the winless Warriors by 17 points in the first half, were forced into overtime by an incredible three-pointer, yet still were able to pull out a 101-98 victory at home. Dirk Nowitzki scored 25 points, including the opening basket in overtime that put Dallas ahead to stay. Jason Richardson forced overtime with a three-pointer from the corner despite being double-teamed with 12 seconds left in regulation.

* Andrei Kirilenko as the Jazz improved to 4-0 with a 102-91 victory over the Nuggets. Utah has scored at least 100 points in each of the first four games -- the first time since 1995-96.

* Chauncey Billups scored four of his 20 points on free throws in the final 45 seconds of the second overtime, and Richard Hamilton also scored 20 in the Pistons' 99-96 victory over the Clippers.

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