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Changes Afoot?

The Bucks are one of only two teams to use the same starting lineup in every game this season, a somewhat remarkable stat given a) what Bucks fans were accustomed to last year and b) that the Bucks have been mediocre to start the year, usually a pretty good reason to switch lineups. But that stability (or the illusion thereof) may end this Saturday as the Bucks await MRI results for Desmond Mason's sprained left thumb.

"I'm kind of waiting to see what happens with the report on Des," Krystkowiak said after a light practice session at the Cousins Center. "We're going to shake something up, whether it's starting the game that way or playing a little bit different lineup. I think it's time to do that.

"It was one of those situations last night where I felt like we played a lot worse, until I watched the tape. And then I said, 'You know what. There was a lot of energy on the floor defensively.' We had maybe one guy breaking down from time to time. I sat up late and watched it, and it wasn't as bad as I thought."

Last night the talk of lineup changes had less to do with injuries and more to do with sending a message, with Mo Williams being the apparent target of Krystkowiak's post-game ire. Williams was the most obvious culprit as Beno Udrih scored 24 and got pretty much anywhere he wanted on the court, especially early in the game as the Kings started 11/12 from the field. Gery Woelfel for one urged patience and argued against a lineup change.

Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak, whose frustrations mirrored those of Redd’s, strongly hinted there could be a separation of the starting lineup.

Krystkowiak indicated he wanted a stronger defensive influence at the start of the game and added the Bucks’ defensive breakdowns started at the "point of attack.’’

Krystkowiak wouldn’t disclose what he had in mind, but his comments could be construed that he is considering replacing starting point guard Mo Williams.

You know it's a bad sign when Krystkowiak  is considering starting a guy shooting under 30% from the field (Charlie Bell) in place of your $52 million point guard. Realistically though, this is all about adding some intensity to the Bucks perimeter defense, a trait which typically has only been evident when Bell and Royal Ivey play together. Unfortunately, those two don't bring nearly the offensive skill that the starters do, and let's not forget that the offense has been only middle-of-the-road this year after generally being a strength under Terry Stotts.

Realistically there's no magic bullet for the Bucks; they've been healthy up until now but have struggled to find a combination that can defend well and score well enough, or score well and defend well enough. Perhaps more importantly, what realistically happens if the Bucks start Bell over Williams? At the end of the day it's a short-term solution at best. Bell could add some defensive pressure to open games while Williams' offensive abilities could carry the second unit at the end of the first quarter and into the second. Williams would likely still close out games, similar to Jason Terry in Dallas. In theory it sounds like it could work well, with the longer-term hope being that Mo at some point gets "it" and then transitions back into the starting unit.

If it works then that's great, but what are the odds that it goes that smoothly? They've effectively committed to Williams being their PG of the future, and while his defense is still porous and his late-game decision-making questionable at times, he's also shown far more resolve in getting other players involved this year. Additionally, it seems on some level unfair to punish Williams when Redd's defense and decision-making has been just as questionable. We all know Redd effectively can't be benched, but Krystkowiak has emphasized accountability from the day he was promoted to head coach; this may or may not be the way to back that up, as it could also underscore the differing sets of rules for Redd versus other players.

Assuming Mason's injury shelves him for some period, the most likely scenario might be that Bell is thrown into the lineup on Saturday, thus reforming the three guard lineup the Bucks used for stretches last year. While inserting Simmons in for Mason makes more sense on paper, Krystkowiak used Bell in Mason's place to start the third quarter against the Kings, in spite of the obvious problems a small lineup might have guarding a beastly SF like Ron Artest. They'll face a similar problem on Saturday when Gerald Wallace and the Bobcats come into town. Yi seemed as effective as anyone at slowing down Artest, but if Villanueva is again out it will likely be difficult to experiment with Yi at the 3. Keep in mind Yi hasn't officially played SF at all this year, but if the Bobs go small Yi will likely have to deal with Wallace.

Personally I'd like to see Simmons get a start in Mason's absence just to see how that lineup would work. Simmons' perimeter defense is fairly tragic at the moment, but he at least has the strength to body guys in the post. Perhaps more importantly, Simmons' spot-up three point shooting ability should be a good complement to the halfcourt offense preferred by the starters, but that ability hasn't really translated into results this year.  After shooting .435 and .420 from distance his last two seasons, Simmons is only shooting .292 from three this year. Then again, Bell's numbers are even uglier, as he will enter the Charlotta game shooting .291 from the field and just .226 from deep (vs .437/.352 last year). In other words, the Bucks will be hoping that mean reversions kicks in sooner rather than later.

Either way, the Bucks are clearly reaching the point where patience and the desire for continuity might be giving way to a bit of desperation and a willingness to experiment. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if guys can deal with their new roles and be professionals. Outwardly there's no sign of anyone giving up, but the role players especially haven't lived up to their potential, and the stars (using that term loosely) haven't consistently played the way the coaching staff needs them to play. Meanwhile, Krystkowiak has seemingly tried every combination possible within games, and has shifted from playing too many guys early in the season to keeping a short bench of late. You could also argue guys like Villanueva and Simmons would benefit from being back in starting roles, and there may be truth in that. But that also seems largely antithetical to everything Krystkowiak has been preaching since day one: hard work, energy, sacrifice. We've actually seen more of those things this year than last year, but it's easy to lose sight of that when the results seem all too familiar.