MIAMI - In a playful mood after spending an extra day in South Florida on the heels of the Nets' big win over the Heat, Deron Williams couldn't help but have a little fun.
Williams on Friday was asked to flash back to the Nets' depressing times in the first two months of the season and how naysayers were calling for Jason Kidd's scalp, saying he was in over his head as a rookie coach leading a win-now team.
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"He was doing a bad job, you know?" Williams said with a smile.
Questioned about his readiness for the Nets' head-coaching gig after a tumultuous opening act in which he was fined for the spilled soda caper and essentially banished his top assistant, Kidd is silencing the skeptics.
He has the Nets (33-30) playing a brand of unselfish, winning basketball that's lifted them to a 23-9 mark since Jan. 1 -- the top record in the Eastern Conference since the beginning of the year -- heading into Saturday night's contest against the Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington.
Their confidence is reaching new heights thanks to victories such as the one they posted over the two-time defending champs Wednesday despite being shorthanded. They've been doing it lately without vocal leader Kevin Garnett, who'll miss his eighth straight game Saturday night because of back spasms.
"[Kidd's] doing a great job with us, man," Williams said, "just balancing out everything we've had going on [and] the injuries. He's had a lot to deal with just with rotations. It's made it tough, but I think he's handled it well, this being his first year. I think he prepares us well every game. I think he gets us ready to play, and then in the game, he puts us in good situations. So it's a learning experience for him, and I think he's grown game by game and you can kind of see that."
The Nets, in a sense, have taken on Kidd's personality. They're staying even-keeled like their 40-year-old coach, for the most part refusing to get drawn into any kind of emotional roller coasters.
"Man, it's great," Shaun Livingston said. "It just kind of goes back to his playing career. He goes to different teams and he kind of just changes the locker room, the culture, and he's the glue guy in that sense. He's been the same for us all year . . . Just like the team's gotten better, he's gotten better -- coaching, communicating, being assertive, picking his spots. He's really kind of the engine that's made this team go."
Kidd has found his comfort zone on the sideline just in time for the Nets to start making a run as the postseason nears. He's certainly been more animated on the sideline than he was initially. He's vocal in huddles and timeouts, using some of that cache he built up during his 21-year playing career to get everyone moving in the same direction.
"He's kind of speaking on what the veterans say," Livingston said. "Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, I mean they all really speak the same language. He's doing it from the head-coaching position and his voice has gotten louder as the season has gone on, and I think it's resonating more, too."
Notes & quotes: Kidd confirmed that, as expected, the Nets will sign Jason Collins for the rest of the season when his second 10-day contract expires Saturday. "I think it's a good signing for us," Kidd said, "gives us some security at the big position. If KG is out, we have 'Twin' to be able to use in different roles. But I think it's a great signing.'' . . . Andrei Kirilenko (sprained right ankle) practiced and is listed as a game-time decision. As for what happened Wednesday, when he wasn't able to play against Miami, Kirilenko said: "When I was stretching and running warming up, it just felt like it didn't show the support I needed to be supported. It was still weak, and every lateral move, it feels like it doesn't support that much." . . . Garnett won't play against the Wizards, but Kidd said he is feeling better. When he does return from his extended absence, Kidd said he won't do anything differently with regard to preserving Garnett's services for the postseason. "I don't want to say we are going to limit his game," Kidd said. "When he's ready to go, we are going to play him and most likely no back-to-backs. But we will take it day by day. Our job as coaches is to make sure we are ready going into the playoffs."