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Pippen shows he can be a starter

Blazer veteran ready if coach Maurice Cheeks makes the call

Scottie Pippen is not going to make waves. The 37-year-old veteran has been around long enough to know that's counterproductive.

Truth be told, though, Pippen wants to start for the Trail Blazers. And he made a pretty good case for himself in Wednesday's 94-88 victory over Memphis at the Rose Garden.

Nobody was more instrumental in the win than Pippen, who could be in the starting lineup tonight when Portland opens a four-game road trip in Phoenix. The future Hall-of-Famer came off the bench to hit 7 of 12 shots and contribute 16 points, five rebounds, five assists, no turnovers and countless intangibles in an impressive 37-minute display.

Pippen, rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery, played in no preseason games and has been on doctor's orders to play limited minutes as he tests the knee and works his way back into game shape. He was pressed into more extensive duty because Bonzi Wells sat out the game Ñ ostensibly because of blisters Ñ and Derek Anderson suffered a concussion two minutes into the action.

When the media asked him after the game if he would prefer to start, Pippen replied, 'Whatever the coach wants me to do, I'll do.'

Before the game, Pippen was more revealing to the Tribune. 'I would like to get back to being a starter,' he said. 'I think it's better for our team. It's tough being a leader when you go out there and you're already down 10 points, and you don't have the momentum.'

If there's an on-court leader on the Blazers, it's not Rasheed Wallace, nor is it point guard Damon Stoudamire. It's Pippen, who owns six championship rings and has the complete respect of his teammates, even if he's one of the most overpaid players in the league at $19.7 million this season. This is the first taste of bench duty since his rookie year with Chicago in 1987-88. While he won't complain, he definitely wants to play his way back into the lineup.

'It's tough to come off the bench and get yourself going,' he said. 'You don't like going out there trying to play catch-up.'

Pippen doesn't disagree with Wells' comment, reported in the media last week, in which he said, 'We have a lot of guys, and it's tough to find your niche. I know I'm not in a flow, and it's tough to find it when you're not playing.'

Pippen doesn't sympathize with his teammate. 'Ain't none of us been in a flow,' he said. 'We have to adapt to whatever the coach wants from us. We all have to do what we can to make it work. We all have to make some adjustments.'

The glut of players with similar talent 'has been the makeup of this team for a long time,' Pippen said. 'Everybody can't be starters. We have to have some role players.'

Coach Maurice Cheeks said he is mindful of Pippen's situation, but he wouldn't commit to moving the small forward back into a starting role tonight for the first time this season.

'We'll see where Derek is at physically,' Cheeks said of Anderson. 'It's a conversation we may have. Scottie is always ready to play. The guy is used to starting, so it's different coming off the bench. But Scottie is a professional. He is ready every time he steps on the court, whether he plays five or 30-some minutes.'

Pippen isn't guaranteeing anything as the Blazers go on the road to Phoenix tonight, San Antonio on Saturday, Dallas on Monday and Houston on Tuesday.

'We could do a lot of things,' he said. 'We can go down there and lose all four games, or we can take them one at a time and compete. That's what we have to do. We have to compete a little harder than we have done so far.'

NOTES: Cheeks has to make other decisions about playing time, especially in the backcourt. Antonio Daniels has been his most consistent guard through the first five games, hitting 12 of 18 shots from the floor, 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, with only four turnovers and some strong defense in 87 minutes. Jeff McInnis had his best game against Memphis, hitting 6 of 9 shots and collecting 13 points and five assists in 28 minutes. Stoudamire had seven assists but was 0 for 8 from the field, scoring only one point in 27 minutes. ... Daniels, who played on San Antonio's 1999 NBA championship squad: 'This is the most talented team I have been on, but talent doesn't win games. Chemistry does.'

Cheeks said Arvydas Sabonis, sidelined for the last two games because of a hamstring strain, will make the trip and could play at some point. É Anderson banged the back of his head on the court in a first-quarter fall Wednesday.

Wallace leads Portland with a 21.4 scoring average but is shooting only .390 from the field. He has shot less than 50 percent in all five games.

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