Al Iannazzone Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone.

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11 years for The Record. Al covered the Knicks and Nets in that time, and also reported on the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other major sporting events. Al appeared regularly on the YES Network’s Nets pregame show from 2005-2011.

Follow him on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone.
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Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak weren't on the Knicks' training-camp roster. They were signed to be part-time players, if that. Yet they probably have had a bigger impact on the Knicks' season than Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire.

It's interesting how two basically end-of-the-bench players -- an undrafted point guard from Harvard and a journeyman specialist -- on essentially minimum deals have been more important than two perennial All-Stars making max money.

Having the two stars on the floor opens up the lane for Lin and the perimeter for Novak, and Anthony and Stoudemire eventually will be difference-makers. But Lin and Novak, two late additions to the team and the rotation, have sparked the Knicks' season-changing run of 10 wins in 13 games.

"They've turned out great," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's like 'good, we're happy to have you here' to 'we're unbelievably happy to have you here.'

"Arguably in the last 10 games or so, they've been our best players. You talk about changing the season and coming out of nowhere, it's been great."

You can't forget Tyson Chandler or his role in the surge. As expected, Chandler is a part of the Knicks' Big Three, but no one could have guessed that the other two at this point would be Lin and Novak.

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Lin has been the penetrating point guard the Knicks were missing. He's galvanized the Knicks and lifted everyone's games. In those 10 wins, he's produced 23.5 points and 10.0 assists.

Novak has been a lights-out shooter and also has energized his teammates. He's scored 14.1 points off the bench and hit 34-for-66 (51.5 percent) from three-point range in the last nine wins.

Playing in D'Antoni's system has helped both players and probably has earned them bigger paydays next season. But D'Antoni doesn't take the credit. He passes it off to interim GM Glen Grunwald for finding players with skills that the Knicks needed, and to Lin and Novak for working hard, improving and capitalizing on their opportunities.

"They were gotten for a certain reason," D'Antoni said. "We wanted to , and they have it and an abundance of it."

Shumpert's standout defense

Iman Shumpert was overlooked for the rookie-sophomore Rising Stars Challenge game. But he could be a rising star just with his defense alone. That probably will keep the rookie swingman on the floor late in games, especially tight ones against good teams.

Shumpert's fourth-quarter defense against Minnesota, Toronto's Jose Calderon and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving helped the Knicks win those games.

"He's got strong hands and he's strong," D'Antoni said. "Him by himself has changed around the mentality of the team. He's only going to get better."

Shumpert said he's always been a hard-nosed defender and that he guarded all positions in college.

"I got used to guarding everything," he said. "It just became my thing to take the best player out of it.

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"I just try to make people uncomfortable. There are a lot of great scorers in this league, a lot of great players. I just try to take what they do best, try and take it away."

Trade deadline

Only 12 days until the NBA trade deadline and the biggest question remains: Will Dwight Howard be moved by March 15? Other players who could be dealt by then include Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Josh Smith and Michael Beasley.

The Celtics want to shed payroll and know the window of opportunity is closing. Pierce is owed $32 million over the next two years and Rondo is owed $35.8 million through 2014-15. Teams are interested in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, though, because they have expiring contracts. Boston might want to hold on to them for that reason.

The Lakers are expected to do something. They want a point guard, and Ramon Sessions has been on their radar for a while. The Mavericks also would like to clear money to make runs at Howard and Deron Williams this summer. Other teams that are expected to be active include the Magic, Cavaliers and Rockets. Orlando will try to make moves that entice Howard to stay.

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Superfan tripped up

The Clippers have their own version of the Jets' Fireman Ed. Well, they did, anyway.

A superfan who dances and cheers at games was instructed by the organization to no longer go by "Clipper Darrell." The organization said it had to do with Darrell Bailey's "inappropriate use of the Clippers' team name and trademark for his own unmonitored commercial gain."

Some Clippers, including Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, took to Twitter in defense of Bailey, a longtime season-ticket holder. One of the better tweets came from former Clippers center Kaman, who was traded to New Orleans for Paul in December.

Kaman tweeted: "Well, hey @clipperdarrell at least u got a phone call! #ClipperNation will always support u!"

Novak does shout-out to Wisconsin

Steve Novak had been hearing for a few weeks that he should do the Discount Double Check -- in which he motions as if he's putting on a championship belt -- to pay homage to Aaron Rodgers. Novak said Knicks security manager Max Cayard suggested it to him because Novak is from Wisconsin and a big Packers fan.

Novak refrained, but he finally did it Feb. 19 against Dallas when he shot 4-for-5 from three-point range. His teammates and the fans reacted to it, so now he's doing it more. Novak did it again when he made five threes in Wednesday's game against Cleveland. Some starters on the bench at the time stood up and acted as if they were putting on the belt.

"I don't take myself too seriously," he said. "I don't ever want it to become something where it's like I'm out there taunting or something like that. It's really something I find fun because I'm from Wisconsin. It's like a shout-out to my Wisconsin people. It's something light that I'll bring out now and then."

It's gotten Rodgers' attention. He tweeted Wednesday night: "Big Steve Novak fan." Novak tweeted back his appreciation, but he still hasn't met Rodgers.