PHILADELPHIA -- In a matter-of-fact tone that mirrors the self-assured vibe he's exuding of late, Deron Williams rattled off seven words he wouldn't have uttered just weeks ago.
"Yeah," the Nets point guard said after Saturday's 93-80 win over the Hawks. "I definitely have my confidence back."
Along with his quickness, lift, explosiveness, long-range jumper and better decision-making. Williams' play has been off the charts during these past 10 games since the All-Star break, an upward trend he'll try to keep going Monday night when the Nets (37-26) face the 76ers (23-38).
In the last 10 games, with Joe Johnson's sore left heel nagging him, Williams has averaged 23.1 points and 6.9 assists per game. He's shot 47.2 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from three-point range, numbers that left an impression on Hawks coach Larry Drew.
"As the season progresses, guys like him -- leaders of teams -- I think they're going to be more and more aggressive," Drew said.
"They are going to sort of impose their will as we go down the later third of the season. The good players, they elevate their games during this time. It's a time where players are tired, players are sore, players are mentally fatigued. But there are players who impose their will on those types of situations, and certainly as of lately, just watching him play, it looks like that's his mindset.
"When you have to defend a guy like that, you really have to zero in on him right off the bat, try to discourage him early, to make it tough for him early."
Williams, who is averaging 3.6 turnovers per game since the break, still is trying to shore up that aspect of his game. Perhaps having a single turnover against the Hawks can start a new tendency.
"He's playing at a really, really high level right now," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "I mean, not just in terms of making his shots, but running the team and pushing us when it's appropriate, and when it's not, getting us in the sets."
To break it down in it simplest terms: He's playing like the guy who was deemed worthy of a max five-year, $98-million contract. The result is more smiles and less frowns -- all the way around.
"We're having fun right now," Williams said. "That's the main thing. I just wanted to get back to having fun playing basketball, and we are doing that right now."
Rather confidently, too.