During his playing days, Isiah Thomas was one of the best point guards to ever lace up the high tops. He knows a thing or two about being a playmaker.

So his praise of Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams carries some weight.

"(Williams) is really, really good," aid Thomas, the former quarterback of the original "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons ballclub, who is now the coach of the underachieving New York Knicks.

"He's as special a player as we have in our league and he's just going to keep getting better and better. He's a joy to watch, but he's hell to play against and coach against," Thomas said.

Williams had 22 points, 12 assists and two steals in the Jazz's 100-89 win Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena over the shorthanded Knicks, who were without Stephon Marbury (injury) and Renaldo Balkman (NBA suspension). In addition, two starters — Quentin Richardson and Eddie Curry — missed all but a couple of minutes in the first quarter with flu-like symptoms.

New York fell to 14-31 on the year with its third straight loss on its current road trip in Western Conference-territory. The previous setbacks were by two points to Golden State and 11 on Tuesday night against the Lakers.

How bad has it gotten in New York? Consider: The Knicks seemed to be looking at the 11-point loss to the Jazz as a moral victory.

"Our record ain't that good right now, but from three weeks ago to right now we're playing a lot harder and a lot more consistent," said New York forward Zach Randolph, who finished with 23 points. "A couple of weeks ago we probably would have been blown out by 20 or 30. Now guys are playing hard. Guys are playing the whole 48 minutes."

The Knicks looked like they were going to get blown out in the second quarter when the fell behind by 17 points. But behind Randolph and Jamal Crawford New York was able to pull to within four points in the third quarter and seven points on three occasions in the fourth.

"It's tough to play back-to-back," said Crawford. "Especially here in the thin air and with the way they execute."

Crawford, who finished with a game-high 26 points, was disappointed with the loss, but he, too, says his team is improving.

"It's frustrating (to have just 14 wins), but the one positive is that we've played a lot better basketball the last three or four weeks. I only see us getting better. A month ago or five weeks ago, these three games are games we would have lost by 30 points."

As bad as the Knicks have been, they are still holding out hope of getting back into the playoff picture.

"Progress is being made," said Crawford. "If we were in the West, we'd be in trouble. But we're in the East and it's still open. We have a shot."

Unfortunately for Thomas, he doesn't have a point guard like himself in his prime or Utah's Williams to help his team try to get back on track.

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