EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The best-case scenario still has Deron Williams playing his first real game of basketball in nearly six months a week from Wednesday in the Nets' season opener in Cleveland.
Williams, the Nets point guard, passed a significant hurdle Tuesday when he played in 5-on-5 half-court contact drills for the first time this preseason. It's not the same as facing the Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving for 30 or so minutes in a regular-season game, but it beats what Williams has been doing so far.
"It was good to get back out there," Williams said. "It was only for like 15-20 minutes, but to do contact, 5-on-5 half-court, you're not part of the cheerleading squad. So it was definitely good to be out there."
Williams has been sidelined with a sprained right ankle and has not played since May 4, when the Nets' season ended with a loss to Chicago in Game 7 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So how did he look Tuesday?
"Rusty," coach Jason Kidd said. But he wasn't complaining.
"I think it's great," Kidd said. "I think we put a plan in place and he's following it. But the biggest thing is his body is responding. So for him to be able to do 5-on-5 with the first group is always promising. We've been waiting, but we have to be patient."
Said Williams: "I didn't feel in sync at all because I haven't played basketball. But it felt good to get out there . . . Tomorrow's going to be telling, because this is the most I've done. So if it feels great tomorrow, just keep progressing."
Williams will sit out the Nets' final two preseason games Wednesday night in Boston and Friday in Miami.
"How do you go from playing 15-20 minutes of practice to going up and down [the court]?" Williams said. "If it was up to me I'd go, but it's not up to me. It's up to [trainer Tim Walsh]. I'm on his time. Whatever he says goes."
Former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce also will not play. With the World Series Game 1 at Fenway Park and the Celtics in rebuilding mode, it's hard to imagine anyone but die-hard fans focusing on the game at TD Bank Garden.
Jason Terry, also a former Celtic, is expected to make his preseason debut after offseason knee surgery. The injury news wasn't as good for forward Andrei Kirilenko, who is suffering from back spasms again. Kirilenko will miss the final two preseason games. Kidd said the team is still hopeful Kirilenko will play in the season opener.