GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) -Isiah Thomas expects a friendly crowd Thursday night, and will have a familiar face in practice the following day.
One day after signing Allan Houston, the Knicks will make their home exhibition debut on Thursday against Maccabi Tel Aviv, their first game in New York since a jury found Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders.
And though Thomas and his superiors came off poorly in the trial, the coach is confident the traditionally tough New York fans remain on his side.
``I think I'll get a warm reception,'' Thomas said after practice Wednesday. ``I don't think that the things that have gone on will affect the way people feel about me. Just from walking around New York and being in the city and even getting back, I've received a lot of love ... letters and support from a lot of people.''
Thomas said he didn't expect Houston to be on the floor Thursday, but he did on Friday when the Knicks return to practice.
Thomas hasn't spent much time in New York since the jury's decision on Oct. 2. He left that day for Charleston, S.C., where the Knicks held their training camp, and the team only returned Monday night.
The Knicks haven't won a playoff game since Thomas arrived as team president in December 2003, and fans frequently booed Thomas and chanted for him to be fired in previous seasons. But they warmed to him last season, his first as coach, as New York rebounded from its early struggles to get into playoff contention and earn him an extension.
Last week, Al Sharpton threatened to lead protests at Madison Square Garden if Thomas didn't apologize for saying in a videotaped deposition shown at trial that he made a distinction between a black man and a white one calling a black woman ``bitch.''
Still, he expects to hear cheers Thursday.
``I believe they will. But if not, then I'll earn it,'' he said. ``I've been fighting for my life all my life, so I'm not a guy that walks away or shy away. And if whatever comes my way, I'll deal with it and I'll stand tall. But I'm not expecting a bad reaction tomorrow at all.''
Houston, once one of the NBA's best outside shooters, was forced to retire two years ago this month when he was unable to overcome knee problems. He averaged a career-best 22.5 points in 2002-03, then managed only 70 games total after that.
But now, at 36 and with the six-year, $100 million, six-year contract extension he signed in 2001 finally expired, he seems ready to give it another shot.
With the maximum 15 players already under contract, the Knicks don't necessarily have room for Houston. But if he can still play - and guard Jamal Crawford said during workouts Houston proved he could - Thomas would find a way to keep him.
``If he's that good, I mean if he's the Allan Houston that we know and we haven't seen him in a while but if he's that good a player, we want good players,'' Thomas said. ``If we're in a position where a player can help us, we definitely will look at him and make room for him.''

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