EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Deron Williams was supposed to be hovering in the same stratosphere he resided in for the final months of last season, proving he's indeed worthy of a maximum contract.
Jason Kidd kept mentioning how he wanted him to be in the MVP conversation, a lofty goal the Nets coach thought was easily attainable for his point guard.
All that presumed one thing: Williams would be healthy. But he hasn't been, a maddening recurring theme for a player who flashes brilliance when not nursing one of the various ailments he's dealt with during three-plus seasons as a Net.
"I was excited about it and then injuries happened,'' said Williams, whose Nets (7-14) host the Clippers tonight. "I'm definitely frustrated that I couldn't do that. I'm sure there are people jumping off the bandwagon, which is great, but I know what I'm capable of doing when I'm healthy. Unfortunately, I haven't been healthy the last couple of years. So, hopefully -- knock on wood -- I can stay healthy and see what I can do.''
Williams was back to being the Nets' engine in Tuesday's 104-96 win over the Celtics, igniting a team badly in need of an infusion of energy and hope. He had a season-high 25 points plus seven assists, not looking much like a guy who missed the previous nine games with a sprained left ankle. That after a preseason in which he didn't do much thanks to a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise.
Williams, their main facilitator, got teammates involved and set the tempo. He found the right balance on when to push the ball and when to slow it down so they could pound it inside with Brook Lopez or have Joe Johnson create on the wings.
"It gives us basically a full deck having our two main pieces out there,'' Johnson said. "Deron and Brook making plays, and the way he was pushing the ball and getting it to the teeth of the defense, it causes a lot of problems. It opens up the floor for guys like me, Paul [Pierce], Alan Anderson, KG, Brook. I said from day one, he's the head of the snake. When he's rolling, we're rolling.''
And when he's running, they're running. Williams tried to get the ball upcourt to keep the Celtics from setting up on defense in the halfcourt. The Nets converted 4 of 5 fast breaks for 10 points, a key for a team that has its share of scoring droughts.
"We definitely need to push the ball,'' Williams said. "We're a team that needs to do a good job of getting easier baskets. It seems like we’re just working hard for everything, putting a lot of pressure on Joe and Brook to just kind of carry us every night. So, that’s why I want to try and push the tempo, and get some easy baskets for guys and get guys confidence going. When you see the ball go in a couple times and then you take that next shot, you have confidence it’s going to go in.”
Notes & quotes: Kidd wouldn't say whether he's planning on keeping Pierce coming off the bench. He returned Tuesday from a three-game absence with a fractured right hand, scoring four points and shooting 0-for-3. It was only the fourth time in 1,118 career games that Pierce didn't start. "Well, it's coming off an injury, so we're not saying this is permanent," Kidd said. "We're going to take it day-by-day.'' . . . He said Andrei Kirilenko, who missed the last 17 games because of back spasms, is "getting treatment.''