It was dog night at the SkyDome on Tuesday.
The halftime entertainment featured more than a dozen trained racing-jumping dogs chasing tennis balls. The crowd was constantly reminded with signs and over the P.A. system that the SkyDome offers the least expensive hot dogs in the NBA (99 cents Canadian, about 69 cents U.S.). The Utah Jazz opened the game by playing like dogs. But in the end, the game showed why the Toronto Raptors' season is going to the dogs.The Jazz, after another one of their lackadaisical starts, came away with a 108-93 victory over the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It was Utah's 40th victory of the season, against 16 losses. The Jazz have now won 10 of their last 11.
Half the Raptors are new to the team after recent trades with Portland and Boston. But Toronto got off to a fast start on Tuesday, despite the fact that the players are still learning each other's names.
Rookie point guard Chauncey Billups, playing in just his fifth game with the Raptors, opened the game on fire. He made his first four shots - including two 3-pointers - to score 10 points in the first five minutes.
The Jazz, apparently thinking they only needed to show up to beat the Raptors, found themselves down by 14 - at 22-8 - barely seven minutes into the game.
"It was another one of those occasions where we knew we'd win the game, so we just went out there and took the first shot available," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "We didn't execute like we are supposed to. We figured we'd just play with them and if we got down, then we'd get serious."
Slow starts, especially against poor teams, have become a habit for the Jazz.
"I'm sure we're driving Jerry (Sloan) nuts," said Hornacek. "Somehow we need to change our thinking. Maybe we should start a game down 15-to-nothing, at least in our minds, so that we don't start so slow."
While the starters were struggling, a couple of reserves came in to rally the Jazz. Shandon Anderson and Bryon Russell combined for 30 first-half points. Anderson's 18 points (on 8-for-12 from the field) in the opening two quarters were more than the combined total of 13 points scored by the five Jazz starters.
Karl Malone had one of his worst opening halves of the season. The Mailman scored only four points on 2-for-9 from the field.
But the Jazz were still in good shape because Anderson had his way posting up Raptor guards.
Anderson finished the game with 26 points - five more than his previous career high. Russell added a season-high 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
"The guys on the bench are just doing our job," said Russell.
By halftime, the Jazz had turned their 14-point deficit into an eight-point lead - despite the fact that their top two scorers on the year, Malone and Hornacek, had combined for four points.
Malone and Hornacek were better in the second half as the Jazz maintained control but never put the Raptors away for good. Malone scored 20 point after the intermission to finish with 24 points and 10 rebounds. It was, however, the first time in 21 games that the Mailman didn't lead the Jazz in scoring.
The Jazz flew to Boston after the game for Wednesday night's game against the Celtics in the Fleet Center.