Deron Williams celebrates his record ninth three-point goal in the...

Deron Williams celebrates his record ninth three-point goal in the first half against the Washington Wizards. (March 8, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

BOSTON -- There they were, still hoisting long-distance jumpers at TD Garden after Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce had exited their old stamping grounds, their work done for the day at the Nets' morning shootaround.

Deron Williams and Jason Terry were having fun with their own personal three-point shooting contest, both hearing that familiar swish sound frequently. Williams drained 10 in a row at one point, working up a sweat hours before the Nets' 101-97 loss to the Celtics in their penultimate preseason contest.

Williams was in a jovial mood the whole time and was finally having fun again -- something even Terry noticed hadn't been happening much lately while Williams has been sidelined with his sprained right ankle.

"Oh, no question. You can see him," said Terry, who made his Nets' debut Wednesday night after sitting out the bulk of the preseason working his way back from left knee surgery. "I mean, he was so depressed the first couple of days. I'm like, 'Man, it's like you're going to be out for the season or something, you know?'

"That's just how he is. But you can see him now. He's smiling and back to his old self. We're hoping, we're praying that it holds up so he can be out there for Game 1."

Williams reiterated that's his goal, to be in the lineup when the Nets meet the Cavaliers in Cleveland next Wednesday night. He was encouraged after his body responded well to his first full contact practice of the preseason Tuesday night, saying he felt good and didn't experience pain overnight. The next step is to go through another practice in Miami Thursday and then see where he's at come Friday morning.

But the biggest thing for Williams now is to not overexert himself too much, looking to make up for all that lost time to quickly get into playing shape. It's imperative for him to ease into it, even if that would put his availability for the season opener in jeopardy.

"I think so," Williams said. "It's going to be tough to get back for that first game just because I haven't done much. But we've got four days, five days after that last Miami [preseason] game. So, I'm going to try to push to play some minutes in the Miami game in preseason. But I don't know if that's going to happen."

Not with Williams vertical at the moment probably some "three inches off the ground. I'm jumping like Jason Kidd right now," he joked. The Nets are taking the ultraconservative approach with their star guard after last season's injury-plagued campaign and they don't want him to play until he's completely healthy.

With all that down time on his hands during practice, Williams mostly hit the gym and worked on refining his jumper, hoping to improve on his showings of 34.9, 40.7 and 44 percent from the floor in his two-plus seasons with the Nets.

"I feel like I've always been a pretty good shooter," Williams said. "I had two years where I was playing with a wrist with fragments all in it. So that's why I [was bad]. Then last year, I started out the season and it was my ankles. So, I think when I'm healthy, my jumper is definitely fine and I'm going to get a lot of open looks on this team with the guys we got."

That, too, is yet another reason why the Nets are being cautious with Williams. Unlike last season, when the bulk of the team's success hinged on his shoulders, the Nets have guys like Garnett and Pierce -- both of whom didn't play against the Celtics -- to alleviate some of the pressure on him. Williams also has a solid backup in Shaun Livingston, who's been impressive in his absence.

Still, Kidd doesn't want Williams to defer too much once he finally gets going, preferring he serves as the aggressor instead of over relying on the Nets' new cast of characters.

"I think it's a balancing act because the more help you have, you tend to maybe relax a little bit," the Nets coach said. "And so for him, he has to stay hungry. We've raised the bar for him to get back into that conversation as being one of the top point guards in the league, so I think it's a great challenge. The great ones or the good ones love that challenge. So, I think he's up for it."

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