(October 25, 2013)
MIAMI—The decision was all but made Thursday afternoon, as soon as the coaching staff and trainers saw the way Deron Williams cut on defense and exploded to the basket during his first full practice of the preseason.
They had babied his injured right ankle long enough.
The sprain and bone bruise he suffered in September during an off-season workout was sufficiently healed for them to take the wraps off the star point guard.
Friday night, in the city the Eastern Conference title, if not the NBA title will likely go through, Williams saw his first action of the 2013 preseason and he was dazzling, leading the Nets to a 108-87 rout of the two-time NBA champions.
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He buried three straight 3’s in the first quarter and then drove past Norris Cole before rising up to put in a layup over 6-10 Chris Andersen.
“I liked watching these guys play,” joked Williams. “But I was sick of watching them at the same time.”
He took the court with the starting unit that was comprised of Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche, who was starting in place of Kevin Garnett and his impact was immediately felt.
“It was great,” said Paul Pierce. “He just adds that dimension to our team because of the way he shoots the ball, the way he pushes it. He’s just going to make us all better. He’s going to make life easier on the rest of us.”
Life on the offensive end seemed like a day at the beach against Miami. The Nets shot 54 percent from the field, scoring 40 baskets on 23 assists.
Five players scored in double figures, led by Alan Anderson’s 17 points and Pierce’s 16.
“I probably could have played a couple of weeks ago,” said Williams. “Would it have hurt? Yeah, there was some pain there.”
“So I think the smart thing was that I keep rehabbing, keep going straight ahead. I did lateral [movement] for the first time like a week ago so everything I was doing was straight ahead, just cautionary so I didn’t tweak it and have any setbacks.”
Williams has acknowledged it’s going to take him a little time to catch up to the rest of the starting unit and for them to get completely familiar with him.
With next Wednesday’s regular season opener at Cleveland on the horizon, getting some minutes in a game situation was invaluable for Williams and the Nets.
“No question it’s a bonus for him to play tonight,” said center Brook Lopez. “He’s going to get his feet wet tonight and get his feel back in a live game and be ready to go.”
Lopez knows as well as any player on this roster what Williams brings to the court.
In Thursday’s practice he had hustled down court and was amazed that Williams was able to spot him from midcourt. The half court pass met Lopez as he soared toward the rim.
“He gives me such easy looks, gift wrapped baskets,” said Lopez. “He truly is an amazing specimen.”
“He sees everything on the floor. Especially his ability to see the floor as he’s moving the way he does, cutting and getting up the court, it’s so impressive.”
Williams finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting (3-of-4 from behind the arc) two assists, two turnovers and one steal in just under 10 minutes.
Of course, he lamented the two turnovers, but it was exactly the kind of first experience Coach Jason Kidd was hoping for.
“The more minutes under your belt the better you feel mentally and then having fun,” Kidd said of Williams’ return. “The game is supposed to be fun and I think if he can have those two things he can get back to the level where he was right after the All Star break.”
Williams returned to his status as an elite point guard in the second half of last season. He acknowledged at Friday morning’s shoot-around that the bone spurs in both ankles were exacerbated by a weight gain.
He took cortisone shots and platelet treatments during the All Star break and went on a juice diet that helped him lose 15 pounds.
Williams came to camp in shape despite suffering the sprained right ankle and bone bruise when he rolled his ankle coming down from a layup.
Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor have played well in Williams’ place but there’s no question they need the three-time All Star to make a title run.
“He’s the engine,” aid Kidd. “He’s the one that runs the show here. He’s young. He’ll be fresh. The talent that he brings to the table, he’s one of the best in the league at his position so he’s a big part of this and we’re going to need him 100 percent.”