Joe Johnson rests, Deron Williams soldiers on and Rockets pull away late to beat Nets
Deron Williams was hobbling around. Joe Johnson was in a suit on the bench. Certainly, this wasn't the scenario the Nets envisioned for their multimillion-dollar All-Star backcourt, watching them fight through injuries just as the Nets are beginning their sprint to April's regular-season finish line.
Johnson was bitten by the injury bug the other night in Milwaukee, developing what the Nets diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. So the sore left heel, which has him listed as day-to-day, kept him out of Friday night's 106-96 loss to the Rockets in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center.
The Nets (33-23), whose four-game winning streak was snapped, watched Houston (31-26) close it out with a 9-2 spurt, with James Harden and Carlos Delfino netting all but one of those points. Each finished with 22 points.
Brook Lopez paced the Nets with 27 points. Williams had 15 points and 13 assists in a team-high 40 minutes but shot only 5-for-17 and again banged his gimpy left ankle in the third quarter.
Williams' penchant for bumps and bruises is about as common as the sun rising in the east.
"It should be," Williams said when asked if he'll be OK. "It's something I've been doing all season, so I'm kind of used to it now."
Earlier in the day, Williams revealed that Thursday's round of cortisone shots in both ankles marked the third time he's received them this season, which raised a few eyebrows. That information hadn't been made public before.
His left ankle is the weaker of the two, but he said both have been barking since the second day of training with the Olympic team in July. That's why he's turning to the shots to calm the pain.
"The problem was I haven't had a break in a long time," Williams said. "I was doing plyometrics, box jumps, this summer for the first time. I lifted heavier than I've ever lifted, and so I think all the wear and tear is what's caused the inflammation, and I haven't had a break to get it out. It's just gotten worse and worse.
"It didn't feel as bad because I wasn't playing back-to-backs and four in five nights. Then we got to the season. It just kept getting worse and worse because you have less and less rest."
As if the sore ankles aren't bad enough, Williams has battled through injuries to his shoulder, quadriceps, elbow and shooting wrist. He's had so many injuries in his 120 games with the Nets that if he had everything completely bandaged, he'd probably be mummified.
"It's just been tough," Williams said. "I've struggled with almost two seasons with a wrist that needed an operation and I didn't know it, so that was frustrating. I had surgery on that. The ankles are bothering me now, but I'll be all right."
For Williams to completely heal, he would need an extended break, basically shutting himself down for at least a few weeks. But he isn't on board with doing something like that.
"I don't want to," he said. "I've gotten frustrated some nights where I can't do anything, can't go anywhere. It's frustrating and that's how you want to think, but I can't do that."
Still, P.J. Carlesimo knows he has to find a way to better spell Williams and cut back on his average of 36.6 minutes. "He likes to play and he plays injured, so that's a little bit of a dilemma," the interim coach said.
The health of the Nets' prized All-Star backcourt is of optimum importance. Even general manager Billy King couldn't pretend to be confident that Williams and Johnson will be fine come playoff time. "How could you? You've got  games to play," King said. "If I knew that, then I'd be in Vegas."