Highest plus/minus: Etan Thomas (+3)
Lowest plus/minus: Antawn Jamison (-11)
Best five-man unit: Antonio Daniels, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Darius Songaila, Andray Blatche (+4 for a period in 2nd quarter)
Worst five-man unit: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Andray Blatche (-6 down the stretch)
It's a day later, and I'm still struggling with how to view this loss. Let's not mince words, losing at home to the New Jersey Nets in your season-opener is very bad. I don't want to make it seem like it isn't. The problem, though, is assigning blame to parties that deserve it. We just didn't play well, shoot well, etc. Either that's an anomoly or it's a sign that we just aren't the team we think we are. I'm hoping it's the first, but I'm worried it's the second.
Here's the difference. Last year, I was infurated with how we lost to the Pacers on opening night. I was pissed because we were awful defensively, because Gilbert and Antawn were shot-jacking like crazy and because Eddie Jordan decided to bench Brendan Haywood again. We lost a game we should have won if our key guys made better decisions. Tonight, what could have allowed us to win this game? I can't blame Eddie Jordan because he played the kids and the kids mostly played well. I suppose I can't really blame the players for the way they tried to play. All I can really say is that the players didn't hit shots. We lost tonight because Caron and Antawn played poorly, not because they played the wrong way. Well, at least we can say that about Caron.
Anyway, there's a major problem with posting a 40.1 eFG% against the New Jersey Nets. We didn't run enough and, when the game got close, we resorted too much to contested jumpers. In the last six minutes, we were 0-7 from the field and could do no better than DeShawn Stevenson's contested jumpers. The score was 80-78 at the six-minute mark, but we just couldn't score after that. I blame Caron and Antawn for this. I actually don't think Caron played most of the game as badly as it seemed -- he was only 3-11, but he made a concerted effort to drive to the rim -- but he needs to be demanding the ball and running high screen and rolls all day. He doesn't have the best handles, but he'll make the best decision most of the time. Failing that, Antawn needed to get the ball on the block and go to work. He didn't do that, so all we could do was have DeShawn launch crazy long jumpers. Maybe we could have put Nick Young in for offense, but even if Caron and Antawn are struggling, they need to demand the ball. I'd feel better about this loss if they at least tried to do that.
Before that, though, we really missed our two injured guys. We missed Gilbert Arenas for his ability to create easier shots for everybody else. New Jersey's zone really bothered us, particularly when they trapped Caron. Nobody moved into the open spots and the results too often were long jumpers. On the inside, Etan Thomas played very well in limited minutes, but he missed too many short shots and we lost two points in favor of splitting two free throws. Combine that with Caron's uncharacteristic misses and you're approaching 10 points right there.
I can't blame Eddie Jordan for this loss, though. His decision to play Andray Blatche down the stretch probably hurt us, and based on the way the dude was playing, it probably wasn't a good idea. But how can I blame Eddie for that when so often I've criticized him for not playing Blatche enough. Nothing Blatche did merited him playing 25 minutes, but at least Eddie gave him a chance. I don't think it cost us the game, to be honest. Caron and Antawn's passivity cost us the game, not Dray's poor play. I was pleasantly surprised to see Nick Young and the other young guys get so much burn as well. Young was probably the bright spot of this game and the offense seemed to run much better with Dee Brown in the game. The young guys played the best of the bunch, and while it'd be nice if Eddie had a smaller rotation, I can't blame him for giving those guys a shot.
As far as the starters, we've already gone over Caron, but I should apologize slightly to DeShawn Stevenson. He played very bad defense and took shots at the wrong times, but it's not his fault that Caron won't demand the ball from him. He was pretty proficient from deep and didn't turn the ball over. Defensively, he should have been better, but defense didn't cost us this game. The guy who deserves the most criticism is Jamison. He took too many threes, didn't mix it up inside, played poor defense on Yi Jianlian and grabbed only three rebounds. All the concerns people had over him suffering without Brendan Haywood look to be legitimate ones. He needs to play better.
All in all, it's just one game and it's hard to really throw blame around. That's probably more depressing than anything. KD said it best; this team looked old, even if it isn't. There were no extreme factors that caused us to get less out of our talent than we should have. Perhaps we just really aren't that good. Perhaps we just can't create good shots for ourselves like we used to be able to do in past years. If that's the case, then count me in for hoping that our young guys shine even if we don't win.