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Knicks' Richardson might lose spot as starter

Quentin Richardson offered an incredulous reply when asked if he could accept what seems to be the inevitable, which is him falling out of Mike D'Antoni's regular lineup.

"That's what I gotta do," he said, "ain't it?"

The 6-6 veteran recorded his first DNP of the season in Saturday's 120-115 loss in Miami and it's something that could be a trend as D'Antoni commits the starting shooting guard spot over to newcomer Larry Hughes and commits playing time for rookie Danilo Gallinari. D'Antoni yesterday carefully made sure to laud Richardson, who has played various roles at guard and forward this season, by saying, "It's nothing that he did, he's been great."

But D'Antoni couldn't deny the reality of the situation, which is that it is more important for the franchise to get quality minutes out of Gallinari and second-year forward Wilson Chandler than to give those minutes to Richardson, who is shooting just 38.1 percent from the field this season and isn't bringing the defensive stopper ability he had shown in years past. At a listed 235 pounds -- though he appears much heavier -- Richardson doesn't have the speed or stamina to keep the pace in D'Antoni's demanding up-tempo system. There is no denying, however, that he does still bring needed toughness to the game and a competitive spirit.

And the most critical element of all is what has D'Antoni walking on eggshells: Richardson's leadership role in the locker room, especially among the younger players on the team, such as Chandler and Nate Robinson.

"I cheer for my teammates, I try to support everybody," Richardson said. "I try to help . . . everybody I can. If I see something out there, that's what I do."

D'Antoni recently said Gallinari had to accept the "pecking order" that exists in the NBA when it comes to rookies and playing time. But as Gallinari's game and confidence have developed, D'Antoni has no choice but to find him minutes.

And as a result, a veteran is going to be affected by it and, possibly, bristle. Richardson, who criticized Stephon Marbury for allegedly refusing to play when called upon, said that's not him.

"I'm not about to make excuses," Richardson said. "I'll just keep working hard, come in and practice hard and see what happens. That's all I can do."

Notes & quotes: Though Hughes will stay in the starting five, D'Antoni will juggle other spots in the lineup for tonight's game. Wilson Chandler is likely to start at small forward against Josh Smith and Al Harrington would slide to the four spot with David Lee at the five, which means Jared Jeffries would move to the bench. D'Antoni has regularly used the 6-11 Jeffries against opposing point guards to counter pick-and-roll plays, but with the bigger Joe Johnson and athletic Smith in the lineup, there is no other feasible matchup for Chris Duhon other than Hawks point guard Mike Bibby . . . Nate Robinson sat out a second straight practice with a sprained left ankle, which he suffered in Saturday's loss at Miami, but could be in the lineup tonight. "Knowing Nate," D'Antoni said, "if he thinks he can give it a go he'll play without a problem."

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