- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Washington coach Eddie Jordan often has said he only inserts forward Andray Blatche into a rout, either by the Wizards or their opponents.

Put that together with the way the Wizards have played of late and it wasn’t a good sign when the rookie checked in to last night’s game against the Utah Jazz with a little more than two minutes left in the third quarter.

Even though the Wizards put together a late rally to make the score respectable, it was pretty clear Blatche was Jordan’s version of a white flag. Washington fell to the Jazz 97-89 at MCI Center, where the announced crowd of 12,797 (second smallest of the season) spent the evening booing the home team for its lack of effort.

Washington lost for the fifth time in its last six games. Since the Wizards began the season 5-1, they have won just eight times in 26 games.

“We talked about it before the game,” Jordan said. “[The Jazz] execute as well as any team in the league. They’ve been together for two or three years, and they know how to play off of each other and they play hard.”

These days it’s hard to tell whether the Wizards (13-19) aren’t playing hard or simply are a bad basketball team that recently has lost to bad teams like Houston and New York. Last night the Wizards outscored the Jazz 36-28 in the fourth quarter, but they simply couldn’t overcome three wretched quarters before that.

Perhaps the best word to describe the Wizards through 36 minutes is apathetic, and the numbers back that. Washington scored just 33 points, its second-worst total in a first half this season; trailed by 14, its largest deficit at halftime this season; and had just 53 points through three quarters, a season low.

“We fed off the crowd in the fourth quarter, but we can’t continue to dig ourselves a hole and then try to turn up the intensity that late in the game,” said Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, who scored a season-high 15 points. “We need to get off to good starts and try to sustain that momentum throughout the course of 48 minutes. We’re going through some things, obviously.”

On defense the Wizards appeared to be chasing the Jazz (18-17) on almost every possession. Utah had 15 assists on its 20 baskets in the first half and finished with 28 compared to 19 for the Wizards.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with a season-high 30 points, but Washington didn’t get much else from its starters. Brendan Haywood had two points and two rebounds in 22 minutes, and Jared Jeffries, who missed the team’s victory over Boston on Saturday because of a scratch on his left eye, finished with four points, three steals and five rebounds in 25 minutes.

Caron Butler finished with 16 points, and Gilbert Arenas, fourth in the league in scoring, had just 14, his lowest total since he scored 11 at Charlotte on Nov. 26.

The Jazz, winners of six of their last seven games and in first place in the Northwest Division, put four players in double figures, led by former Detroit Pistons reserve Mehmet Okur, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Andrei Kirilenko finished with 17 points, and Matt Harpring and rookie Deron Williams added 12 and 10, respectively.

Jordan has said he is going to start sitting players who don’t show effort, and last night’s game proved that. Blatche, who finished with two points, played extended minutes in the fourth quarter with guys who don’t typically play a lot of minutes late in the game.

Down by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, the Wizards made a late charge in the fourth to cut the Utah lead to 83-77 when Butler hit a pair of free throws with 3:02 left.

But a series of layups by the Jazz late in the game — and Williams’ 3-pointer that pushed the Jazz lead back to 90-81 with 1:40 to go — sealed Washington’s latest loss.

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