Deron Williams sharp in return, on track to play in season opener
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MIAMI -- Earbuds firmly in place as he listened to some of his favorite tunes while warming up two hours before tipoff, Deron Williams worked up a serious lather, knowing this was going to be the chance he's been pining for all preseason.
With the mental hurdle cleared after his first full- court scrimmage 24 hours earlier, all Williams needed to get the green light to play was a good response from his right ankle.
So after he reported no issues and huddled with coach Jason Kidd, it didn't take long for the Nets to remove the caution tape that's been surrounding their point guard since he suffered a sprained ankle and bone bruise working out in Utah in September.
Just as it didn't take long for Williams to, uh, Heat up against Miami.
Williams nailed his first three attempts from three-point range, showing off the smooth stroke he's refined while sidelined.
By the time he checked out for good in the second quarter after logging 9:47, Williams had 11 points, shooting 4-for-5, and recorded two assists and a pair of turnovers in the Nets' 108-97 win over the Heat in their preseason finale at American Airlines Arena.
That performance sparked a big dose of optimism, creating even more hope that Williams will be available for Wednesday night's season opener against the Cavaliers.
"It felt pretty good,'' he said. "I was happy to be back out there, that's for sure. I feel like part of the team. I've been missing basketball. I love watching my guys play, but I'm sick of watching them play at the same time when I'm not out there. I want to be out there. I was happy to be out there with them. I was excited. It was another step in the right direction. Hopefully everything will be good for Cleveland.''
Asked if he's confident he can go in the opener, Williams said: "I should be. I think it depends. We've got some tough practices coming up, so that'll kind of be the telling take. I only played eight minutes today, didn't do a lot. So we'll see."
There were a few occasions in the second quarter when Williams seemingly was all over the place. He stole an errant pass, raced into the frontcourt and drained a three-pointer. He also banked in a running floater in the lane, tossing it up over the outstretched hands of Chris Andersen after dribbling past Norris Cole.
Williams was back -- and the Nets could breathe a little easier. "It was great," Paul Pierce said. "He just definitely adds that dimension to our team because of the way he pushes it. He's just going to make things all better, make life easier on the rest of us."
Pierce and the Nets are fully aware of Williams' importance to the team. Even with an extremely capable backup in Shaun Livingston, the Nets know having a healthy Williams is essential if they're going to make a deep run in the playoffs.
This is supposed to be a championship-caliber team, and Williams is the guy they want in the driver's seat with his foot on the accelerator.
"He's the engine," Kidd said. "He is the one that runs the show here, in a sense of he's young, he'll be fresh. The talent that he brings to the table, he is one of the best in the league at his position. So he's a big part of this and we need him at 100 percent."
If they could, the Nets probably would have encased Williams in bubble wrap, particularly after his rash of ailments last season. Besides dealing with elbow and wrist injuries, Williams battled ankle issues that led to three rounds of cortisone shots and a platelet-rich plasma therapy procedure, all so he could alleviate the troublesome pain that bothered him leading into the Nets' inaugural season in Brooklyn.
Williams said his sprained ankle had nothing to do with last season's ankle problem.
"Last year was just joint pain, and inflammation from joints, probably from me being a little heavy," Williams said. "This year, I sprained my ankle."
Once he's fully comfortable and back in the flow, Williams is eager to play in an offensive system that doesn't come close to mirroring the one incorporated a season ago under Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo. Isolation ball is gone, and Williams seems thrilled with the offensive flow and ball movement under Kidd.
"It's different, man," Williams said. "That's what I was saying. Ya'll thought I was talking about Avery last year, and I never said anything bad about Avery. I was just saying the way we were playing, it's tough to win like that. It's tough to win, especially against good teams, you can't win just holding the ball and going one-on-one. Against the Chicago Bulls, you can't win like that.
"You can't win playing on one side of the floor because you play into what they are trying to do. And so with this team, if we move the ball, if we share the ball and play like we did tonight and have a bunch of assists, it's fun to play that way and that's how I like to play."