Despite a third consecutive ugly performance by Tim Thomas, the Knicks earned their first win of the year, beating the Sixers, 96-88. New York saw major contributions from rookie Treor Ariza (above) (14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists in 21 minutes), as well as Michael Sweetny, Nazr Mohammed and a slightly improved Jamal Crawford.

Before the game, GM Isiah Thomas denied that the club’s axing of assistant Dick Helm was a prelude to Thomas taking over for Lenny Wilkens . Newsday’s Greg Logan reported the following in tomorrow’s paper.

Nobody asked Isiah Thomas if he plans to take the coaching reins from Lenny Wilkens, but three questions into a pregame news conference last night at the Garden, the Knicks president answered the query he assumed was on everyone’s mind. In fact, he answered it repeatedly for emphasis.

“Here’s what I would like to answer to all of you,” Thomas said. “I know there’s been some things written or alluded to about me coaching, and I’ve tried to say it to all of you as best I possibly can. I have no interest in coaching. I don’t think I’ll ever coach the New York Knicks.”

The uproar was precipitated by the dismissal Monday of lead assistant coach Dick Helm, the only member of the staff hand-picked by Wilkens. Helm was replaced by Brendan Suhr, one of Thomas’ closest confidants since he was a Detroit assistant in Thomas’ playing days.

Coming off Saturday’s 34-point loss to Boston, the worst home opener in franchise history, the move suggested Wilkens already was on thin ice after an 0-2 start. When Thomas replaced Scott Layden as president of the Knicks last December, many assumed he eventually would coach the team himself.

But Thomas said it would be too demanding to do more than one job in New York.

“Now, if I’m not here one day and I end up coaching someplace else, that’s my one percent,” Thomas said. “But I won’t be coaching the New York Knicks. And that’s what I came here to say to all of you.”

Pressed about his role in the decision to replace Helms with Suhr, Thomas more or less acknowledged it grew out of his anger over the opening-night embarrassment.

“Anything that’s done basketball-wise with the New York Knicks, I do have a say, and my hand is involved,” he said. ” … What happened here the other night was totally unacceptable, and I hope to never see it again.”