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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Iman Shumpert has turned it on in past two games

Iman Shumpert brings the ball upcourt during the

Iman Shumpert brings the ball upcourt during the second half of a preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Madison Square Garden. (Oct. 25, 2013) Credit: Getty

Iman Shumpert is one of two Knicks who have played in every game this season, but it wasn't until Thursday night that the real Shumpert showed up.

He knocked down shots, attacked the basket, scored a career-high 27 points and played the kind of lockdown defense on Tony Parker that he was known for his first two seasons.

It took until Game 31 for Shumpert to reappear, and in Game 32, he had another strong performance. He scored 53 points and shot 19-for-27 (including 12-for-14 from three-point range) in the two games. If he continues to play with the focus and overall effort he has displayed in Texas, the Knicks could make up some ground in the Eastern Conference.

"We missed that,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "He's a big part of our team's success. When he plays the way he did, we're a tough team. He becomes a threat on both ends of the floor, and we look forward to that.''

Scoring aside, it was Shumpert's hustle play that led to his tiebreaking three-pointer with 39.1 seconds left in San Antonio. It was his six rebounds, including skying for a tip-in with 23.4 seconds left to give the Knicks the lead for good. It also was the three steals and the defense on Parker.

The next night, Shumpert forced a key turnover by James Harden with just over a minute left in a game the Knicks lost by two.

"He's playing tremendous,'' Mike Woodson said. "We've just got to keep him right there where he's playing.''

Shumpert has been involved in ongoing trade rumors, and they won't go away because he is a young, talented two-way player whom many teams would like to have. And he probably has increased his trade value now, but the Knicks should value what they have in him.

Shumpert said he's tuned out the rumors by staying off the Internet, but he has seemed distracted on the court many nights. Before his career game against the Spurs, he didn't reach double-digits for 12 straight games and went scoreless three times.

He admitted it's been a frustrating season.

"Nobody likes to lose,'' he said. "That's the biggest problem. A lot of people have been adding a lot of different things to why we've been losing. Losing is why we're losing. It's that mind-set and that feeling of losing. I think if we string a couple of games together, we'll bounce back.''

The Knicks have been waiting for that for as long as they've been waiting for Shumpert to make his presence felt.

"There was a lot of times last year I was struggling,'' he said, "but nobody cared because we wasn't losing. When you lose, everything just sort of has a microscope on it. I got to keep stepping up and knocking down shots.''

Blazing a Trail

The Portland Trail Blazers (26-7) began the weekend with the best record in the Western Conference.

No one saw that coming. But the Blazers have put together a good team with LaMarcus Aldridge emerging as an MVP candidate, Damian Lillard a blossoming All-Star and Terry Stotts in the Coach of the Year conversation. Nets center Brook Lopez's twin brother Robin also has had an impact.

It's only January, so things can change, especially in the West. But the Blazers showed some mettle by rebounding from back-to-back last-second losses at Miami and New Orleans to beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

Games and experiences like that will help this inexperienced playoff team later, although the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Warriors are better equipped to go deep in the postseason.

Rocky start for rookie coach

Brian Shaw, who interviewed with the Nets, is going through a tough stretch as coach of the Nuggets.

Denver has lost eight of nine. On New Year's Day, during the Nuggets' 114-102 home loss to the 76ers, some fans screamed "Go back to Indiana!'' and "Bring back George Karl!'' at Shaw. He also reportedly was screamed at by his own player, Andre Miller, who was benched for the first time in his 15-year career.

The Nuggets suspended Miller for two games "for conduct detrimental to the team.'' They later rescinded it, but Miller was "excused'' for two games "for personal reasons.''

Fast breaks

- Fun-loving Metta World Peace, who isn't on the Knicks' road trip and is scheduled to have platelet-rich plasma therapy on his left knee tomorrow, tweeted this on Thursday: "Call me I'm bored.''

- Jeff Hornacek, December's Western Conference Coach of the Month, joined Larry Bird and Larry Drew as the only men to win both coach and player honors. Hornacek was the first to do it with the same team.

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