SALT LAKE CITY -- When he returned to this place a year ago, leading a team that was rather devoid of high-level talent, let's just say Deron Williams got a taste of what it's like to be the villain.
Rabid fans of the only real game in town -- and in this sleepy, mountainous state for that matter -- were ticked at Williams and made sure to spew plenty of venom his way.
"Last time, it was tough," Williams said hours before taking the EnergySolutions Arena court as the Nets wrapped up the hefty portion of their eight-game road stretch with a date against the Jazz. "The boos were tough. You play somewhere for 51/2 years and you give it your all, it's tough to get booed.
"But it is what it is. It's part of the game. That's how they feel. It doesn't bother me. It'd be great to go in there and get a win and shut them up a little bit."
Unlike his January trek here during last year's lockout-shortened campaign, when he shot 3-for-15 and had 16 modest points, the Nets were in a much better position to actually do that Saturday night. Williams has enjoyed a resurgence in the Nets' 19 games since the All-Star break, playing more like he did for the better part of his five-plus seasons toiling in the Mountain Time Zone.
In that stretch he was averaging 22.2 points and 7.7 assists, canning 42.4 percent of his shots beyond the arc and netting 46.6 percent from the floor overall.
So, with Joe Johnson missing his fourth straight game as he works through his left heel injury and right quad contusion, Williams' competitive juices could've potentially been in overdrive. But he insisted it wasn't going to be difficult to stay within himself and not play as if he had some personal vendetta against the organization that shipped him to the Nets at the 2011 trade deadline.
"Nah, not really," Williams said. "I want to play a good game just so my team has a good game. [Friday], we were all flat, we all couldn't get anything going, so I'm going to be aggressive regardless, regardless of who I'm playing.''
Williams was a consolation prize of sorts after the Nets rolled snake eyes trying to acquire Carmelo Anthony, who was only interested in playing long-term for the Knicks. His final days in Utah were marred by his reported clash with longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who abruptly retired weeks before Utah traded Williams and hasn't coached since.
Williams has denied that there was a real rift between Sloan and himself, though he admitted they had disagreements and were both stubborn. Still, the Jazz's breakup with Williams badly struck the nerves of more than a few people around here and the sour feelings have lingered, even if there were a few Williams jerseys dotting the stands Saturday night.
"I don't think it's an easy game," interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "Guys say, 'It's another game.' It's not an easy game. You spend as much time in a place as he did, it's not just another game. So, I know he's going to play well, but again, he's going to compete every night and we're coming off a disappointing loss [Friday night]. So he'll get it done."