New York Knicks: Lance Thomas says he's 'pain-free' for the first time this season
Mar 1, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas (42) drives to the net between Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks missed Lance Thomas’ defense when he was injured, but now that he’s healthy he’s giving the team what they need.

New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas had the best game of his injury-plagued season in Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic. He scored 11 points without attempting a three and grabbed 5 rebounds on 4 of 5 shooting from the field.

After the game, Thomas told Marc Berman of The New York Post that his health impacted his play during most of the season.

“I was frustrated most of the year, I couldn’t bring that [defense],’’ Thomas said. “I couldn’t move the way I wanted to move. I was in pain. It feels good to have a healthy body right now. I feel I owe it to my teammates to bring that because it’s contagious.‘’

Thomas unfairly took a beating from fans this season over his play when he was struggling with injuries. The 28-year-old appeared in 30 of the first 41 games and averaged just 4.8 points on 37.9 percent shooting.

Fans fell in love with Mindaugas Kuzminskas and wanted Thomas out of the rotation, but Jeff Hornacek stuck with him. That resilience from the head coach has finally paid off.

Per Berman, Hornacek raved about the six-year veteran’s defense.

Most of all, Hornacek said, Thomas covers up for the defensive mistakes of his mates.

“I just think his contribution on the defensive end has been fantastic in games,’’ Hornacek said.

Thomas missed 14 straight games before returning on Feb. 12 against the Spurs, and the Knicks are 3-3 since. He’s started in three of those games with New York going small and playing Carmelo Anthony at power forward.

Since returning, Thomas is posting superior averages of 26.7 minutes, 8.0 points, and 4.7 rebounds on a slash line of .533/.571/.750. Six games is a very small sample size, but the guy is clearly not a flash in the pan.

Thomas tells Berman that he is “pain-free” for the first time this season.

“I was in the mood, excited,’’ said Thomas, who scored 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting. “I’m just happy to be able to play with my team. I’m very happy to be pain-free in my feet for the first time this season. Nobody wants a fracture in the face. I was feeling headaches and I had a chance to rest my feet and heal. Now I’m back playing. I feel great. I got cracked in the face and got my feet back.’’

Ian Begley of ESPN points out that Lance’s resurgence presents an opportunity for the Knicks.

They are only four back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 21 games left to play, and five of their next seven games are against teams with sub-.500 records.

The Knicks have a chance to make one more run at this thing. That says more about the Eastern Conference than it does about the Knicks.

I'm ESNY's Executive Editor for I cover the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Email: Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.