With Deron Williams out, Nets will look to Joe Johnson
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As he sits back and stews, waiting for his sprained left ankle to heal, Deron Williams can do nothing to lift the Nets from their doldrums.
He's unsure exactly when he'll return from his latest injury, growing more agitated with every day he's forced to sit out. But there's some solace in knowing that things could be a whole lot worse, given Monday's news that Bulls superstar and fellow point guard Derrick Rose is out for the season after surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
"It's tough,'' said Williams, who didn't practice Monday and didn't make the trip to Toronto for Tuesday night's game between the Nets (3-10) and Raptors (6-7). "I have been feeling sorry for myself with my injuries. I don't know what he is going through right now. Take a year off rehabbing, get back, he looked great out there, go down again with another season-ending injury. It's got to be tough for him. I'm praying for him, wishing him the best.''
Losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, the Nets probably could stand to see someone toss a few coins in a well with hopes it will change their fortunes. Williams, however, remains convinced that the Nets' pieces fit together as currently constructed, and he said there's no infighting going on.
"There's no beefs in the locker room,'' he said. "We're not against each other, we're not bickering. That's not been the case. It's just not coming together when we are out there. It's not the same as it was in preseason and training camp, so we've got to get back to that.''
With the Nets so short-handed, Jason Kidd said they might start funneling their offense through Joe Johnson on the post. At 6-7, 240 pounds, Johnson typically has a mismatch at shooting guard with whoever is defending him, and he's adept at passing out of double-teams or backing down and getting a good look.
Shooting at a 42.3-percent clip through their first 12 games, the Nets rarely have any kind of sustained offensive continuity for four full quarters, particularly bogging down when the opposition starts going on a run.
Jump-starting their offense by utilizing Johnson in the post more could help sustain things during those rough stretches, provided the Nets find that fine balance. They can't milk it too much.
"It's kind of something I've been doing for the past seven, eight years,'' Johnson said. "It doesn't bother me. If I draw a double-team, I think my coaching staff and teammates know I'm going to make the right play. [On Sunday] night, I thought it was great for us to play in it for a minute, and we kind of went away from it, which was cool because you really don't want to exhaust it.''
That's when Johnson brought up what he believes is the real reason for the Nets' struggles: the other side of the ball. They've been burned repeatedly in the paint.
"It's not offense that's hurting us,'' he said. "It's just defensively, we are giving up too many easy baskets.''
Williams can only watch from the outside at the moment, bothered that he's on the sideline again.
He missed most of the preseason with a sprained right ankle suffered during a workout in Utah in September, playing only in the Nets' finale against the Heat.
He sprained his left ankle in the first quarter of the Nets' overtime win in Phoenix on Nov. 15 and missed two games before suiting up against the Bobcats a week ago. He came down awkwardly on Kemba Walker's foot as he followed through on a jump shot in the second quarter and has been out of sight for the most part since.
"It's frustrating,'' Williams said. "The first couple of days, I was down just because it seems like I can't catch a break. It seems like I start feeling good and I just can't get into a rhythm because I can't stay on the floor. So it's frustrating. It's frustrating not being able to be out there. We're losing right now, so I really want to be out there, and I just can't do it.''
Notes & quotes: Brook Lopez (ankle), Andrei Kirilenko (back), Jason Terry (knee), and Shaun Livingston (head contusion) didn't practice. Livingston is listed as probable to play against the Raptors. Lopez wasn't expected to make the trip, and Kirilenko and Terry also aren't likely to play . . . After Williams got hurt against the Bobcats, Andray Blatche insinuated that some people might be angling for Williams' ankles and not giving him enough room to land on his follow-throughs, but Williams said there wasn't anything dirty about the play. "I know Kemba and I don't think he would do that in purpose,'' Williams said. "I don't think that was the case. I think sometimes you are just trying to close out, I lost him a little bit, he's trying to recover and contest the best he could, and he just went a little too far. And I jump a little forward on my shot, too. So that could have been it.''