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TIMBERWOLVES: Shakeup possible for Wolves' starting lineup

ST. PAUL The Minnesota Timberwolves' past five games have revealed an alarming trend that is forcing coach Rick Adelman and his staff to consider significant lineup changes. In four of the games, the Wolves have trailed at the end of the first qu...

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ST. PAUL

The Minnesota Timberwolves' past five games have revealed an alarming trend that is forcing coach Rick Adelman and his staff to consider significant lineup changes.

In four of the games, the Wolves have trailed at the end of the first quarter. In all five, starters Darko Milicic and Wes Johnson shot below 40 percent. Johnson's numbers are more unsettling; he has shot only 23 percent (6 of 26) in the stretch.

The fact that Milicic, Johnson and Wayne Ellington, who started the previous three games, did not play a single minute after the first quarter in Tuesday night's loss to Chicago indicates that change is coming.

"Adelman has done his feeling-out process," Timberwolves TV analyst Jim Petersen said. "You're in the business to win games. You have to put your best lineup out there. At some point, you have to make a change to see what it does."

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Adelman got a glimpse of what a productive lineup can do in the second quarter against Chicago. Reserves Ricky Rubio, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver helped starters Kevin Love and Luke Ridnour trim a 24-point deficit to six before halftime.

Rookie forward Derrick Williams and backup point guard J.J. Barea were on the floor earlier in the second quarter before Adelman went with Love and Ridnour the rest of the period.

Adelman said after Tuesday's game that he was going to think about some changes heading into Friday's game at New Orleans.

One thing is clear: Rookie point guard Rubio has upgraded the pace and

continuity in the offense every time he has entered a game, leading to more debate on whether he should be in the starting lineup to help the team perform better in the first quarter.

"I think that finishing the game is way more important than starting, but Ricky has played extremely well so far," Tolliver said. "So maybe putting him in the starting lineup might help us get off to better starts."

Adelman has resisted making Rubio a starter to ease pressure on him and save him for the fourth quarter. Rubio, averaging 10.2 points, 7.9 assists and 29.1 minutes, had played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter in each game this season until Tuesday night. Adelman felt it was important to have Rubio on the floor at the start of the third quarter.

How much longer can Adelman avoid having Rubio on the floor at the start of the game?

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"It's inevitable he's going to be your starting point guard," ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler said. "I have no problem with him coming off the bench early in the season. For a young player like Rubio, with all the hype and scrutiny he's facing, it's a better way for him to succeed. But it's clear now he's gained his confidence. This kid is ready to fly. Let him become the starter he was destined to be."

The best lineup Adelman has had on the floor this season was displayed over the second and third quarters Tuesday night with Rubio, Ridnour, Love, Randolph and Tolliver. The unit turned the game around and helped the Wolves pull even midway through the fourth quarter.

But Adelman prefers to bring Rubio, Tolliver, Randolph and Williams off the bench to pick up the tempo at both ends of the court. Shifting any of the players into the starting lineup could reduce the spark that Adelman has gotten off the bench.

"When you're trying to right the ship, you have to play the guys who are playing the best," said Trent Tucker, a former NBA player and Wolves TV analyst. "It's about who will give you the best chance to win. You can't continue to keep dealing with those big deficits early in the game."

Adelman will have to make major adjustments if he decides to replace Milicic, Johnson and Ellington as starters. Ellington became the starting shooting guard when Johnson slid over to small forward to replace Michael Beasley, who is out with a sprained right foot. Ellington scored 13 points at Washington but has made only 2 of 8 shots in the past two games.

If Rubio becomes a starter, Ridnour likely will assume most of the time at shooting guard until Barea (hamstring, ankle) is fully healthy. Love would be paired up front with a combination of Randolph, Williams and Tolliver.

Tuesday night, Adelman gave a peek into how he might use Rubio as a starter. Rubio played all 12 minutes in the third quarter, then sat out the first four minutes of the fourth before playing the rest of the game. He finished with 13 points, 12 assists and five turnovers, none in the fourth quarter.

"He's going to have some turnovers, but he's a fun player to watch," Legler said of Rubio. "The way he makes his guys better, get him out there as many minutes as you can."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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