Highest plus/minus: Dominic McGuire and Nick Young (+13)
Lowest plus/minus: DeShawn Stevenson (-22)
Best five-man unit: Juan Dixon, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Antawn Jamison, Oleksiy Pecherov (+5 in 3:45 of second quarter action)
Worst five-man unit: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Darius Songaila (-7 in about 2 minutes in fourth quarter)
This game reminds me a lot of this one from last year. We fell way behind at the start, clawed our way back to a point where it looked like we'd win going away and then fell apart at the end. The difference is that we're playing a worse team (Milwaukee without Michael Redd) and we ourselves are a worse team.
Either way, while this game was the most infuriating of the early-season woes, it also was one where things started to get turned around. We clawed our way back into the game without necessarily reverting to small-ball. We got a more balanced effort from our reserves. Caron Butler had yet another outstanding game, though he struggled guarding Richard Jefferson. And despite the mystifying turnovers and lack of good offense, I actually thought Andray Blatche did some good things tonight. In particular, he really did a good job on Andrew Bogut; Bogut did most of his damage against Darius Songaila. There were still tons of breakdowns on Blatche's part, but he at least contributed.
And yet, we still have so many problems. We fell behind big early and we gave up the lead late. In both cases, the backcourt of AD and DeShawn really hurt us. It's hard to pick out one moment with AD that illustrates his problem, but he isn't driving to the basket well anymore and his lack of an outside shot forces us to play 4 on 5 too much of the time. He just can't handle starter minutes anymore, and at 33, we shouldn't expect him to. It took me three games, but I've come to this conclusion.
Stevenson's a bit more of a enigma. I didn't think he played badly until the fouth quarter, to be honest, but once it got to that point, he really hurt us. One play really stands out to me. I think we were winning by 8 at the time. DeShawn popped open in the corner for a long three, but missed it. Instead of husting back, he held his follow through, even after the shot missed badly. Milwaukee grabbed the rebound and DeShawn jogged back defensively while Richard Jefferson, DeShawn's man, was breaking free in the open floor. RJ eventually got an open jumper in transition that he nailed, and suddenly, Milwaukee had life. For a team trying to push the ball all game, that bucket was a big one. It would have easily been prevented if DeShawn ran back on defense.
That's what bugs me about all the Blatche bashing I see . Dray's making mistakes, sure. It's disappointing to see him run the break, only to throw the ball in the third row. But how can you not punish DeShawn for not running back on defense? How can you not punish Songaila for two really dumb touch fouls (should have been 3) with 8 minutes left to go in the fourth that put Milwaukee in the penalty? Those plays really hurt us, and yet it was Blatche that was the first to check out when the game got tight. Why? Why didn't Juan or Nick come back into the game sooner?
Offensively, I think we just stopped making shots. We were taking the ball to the hoop so well earlier in the game, but either the refs stopped calling touch fouls or we lost our aggression. I think it's mostly the former. Besides, I liked that we tried to drive to the rim whenever possible. If we make our free throws, we win that game. If we hit more than 2 of 18 threes, we win that game.
As much as we want to blame this on Eddie Jordan, he really does not have very many people he can trust. At center, he has to choose between the underperforming Blatche, the undersized and manic fouler Songaila or the inexperienced McGee. And before we say that JaVale is the obvious decision, he made a huge mistake late in the game when he allowed Bogut to sneak in front of him for the go-ahead dunk. I want Blatche or McGee out of that duo, but it's tough when none are as reliable as Haywood. Similarly, what can you do about Antawn Jamison's lack of defense and quick shooting? Who's the alternative?
That being said, there is an alternative in the backcourt. AD and DeShawn are killing us right now and their veteran status shouldn't preclude them from being benched. Juan Dixon is still shooting a little too much, but he's running the offense extremely well and playing very good defense. Nick Young again showed that he is really scoring well, though I didn't think he was all that amazing tonight. Statistically, the team has performed best with Juan and Nick on the court. There needs to be a change somewhere, no doubt about it.
What would I do? I'd keep Nick on the bench and start DeShawn, because Nick's scoring is a major asset to the bench unit. I would, however, start Juan and sit AD. Juan's better at setting others up at this point and he at least poses more of a threat offensively. I'll accept the occasional quick long two if it means getting another threat in there. That should make DeShawn's life a bit easier on offense. Off the bench, AD and Nick are a better tandem because Nick's scoring ability will counteract AD's low-mistake style. AD also needs to play fewer minutes because he's 33 and is going to transition back to a bench guy when/if Arenas comes back. Which pair lags more time depends on the game, but I'd switch it up to get Juan and Nick more time at the beginning and end of games.
Other than that, though, there is no quick fix. We miss Brendan Haywood badly and we miss Gilbert Arenas badly. In the meantime, though, Eddie can start by replacing AD in the lineup and getting Nick or Juan on the court both at the beginning of games and down the stretch. The AD/DeShawn backcourt is the biggest problem. Breaking it up is a good place to start.