Highest plus/minus: Brendan Haywood (-1).
Lowest plus/minus: Darius Songaila (-14).
I'm sure everyone here was getting the very same bad memories of the end of last year while watching this game. Early on, you could tell they were playing hard defensively, but they weren't scoring consistently, and Utah is too good to miss as many shots as they did in that first quarter. Once the benches came in, we got completely smoked, and after the starters retook the lead in the third quarter, Utah broke things open early in the fourth, as soon as Daniels and Haywood went to the bench.
Might as well start with the positives instead of the negatives. I was happy we put forth a strong effort, and I was really happy with how Andray Blatche played. He was active offensively, and while he forced up a number of bad shots, he was really strong on the offensive glass. My favorite play of the night was when Blatche finished with two hands on a fast break over Andrei Kirilenko early in the fourth quarter. Why? Because Kirilenko stuffed him twice in the first quarter when Blatche went up weakly with the right hand. He was doing so again this time, but as soon as he saw Kirilenko, he switched to two hands, and as Hubie Brown, still the best in the business despite being 200 years old, always says, you should always dunk with two hands. It was an example of the kid learning something, and anything he learns to aid his immense talent is key.
There was also Antawn, who proved once again why he's an all-star. I'm desperately waiting for that one piece to denounce his candidacy, just so I can tear it down. Alas, it'll probably never come, and that's fine. Those two, and Daniels, in a way-too-many 40 minutes, were the only guys that showed up.
And now, we get to the bad, and it's becoming a recurring problem: the bench. Now, at the very least, it's not as bad as last year, because at least there's more hope for the future on the bench now. But where was that future tonight? Nick Young didn't play until the fourth quarter, Oleksiy Pecherov, despite being a potential matchup for Mehmet Okur, didn't even play. Instead, we were subjected to Darius Songaila turning his head when balls were passed to him, Roger Mason bricking more bad jumpers, and AD playing an insane number of minutes. I get it that Utah is not the right team to make a mental mistake against, but Blatche played a whole lot in spite of this, so why couldn't those guys? Certainly, they could have been better than DeShawn Stevenson, who clearly didn't have it today in any way, shape, or form.
I don't necessarily mean that as a total indictment on Eddie Jordan's part, because, quite frankly, he doesn't have much to work with. Mason had a nice stretch earlier in the year, but he's been awful since the calendar turned. Songaila's been consistently bad all month, even as Pecherov's presence should have motivated him to play better. Eddie keeps looking for vets, like most coaches, and none of ours can play. It makes me dream of a hypothetical day when Ernie somehow convinces Memphis to give us Mike Miller.
But the vets weren't working tonight, so we needed to try something different. The real turning point of the game was when Songaila replaced Haywood early in the fourth. Suddenly, without Haywood as a defensive presence, Utah strung together a big run and put the game away. Obviously, Haywood can't play 48 minutes, but why not substitute Pech instead of Songaila, and play with your young frontcourt of Blatche and Pech? Or, go with Songaila and Pech and give Blatche a quick breather, since Blatche was playing a ton of minutes. Either way, I'm tired of Blatche and Songaila out there together, and I think that cost us the game tonight.
Ultimately, though, this could have been a lot worse, and Butler should be back against LA Sunday. Better yet, Mike Jones (who!) sez Pau Gasol probably won't arrive in time to play for LA. It'll mean a lot of Kobe, but after tonight's stinker, perhaps that'll be a good thing for DeShawn.