(October 24, 2013)
MIAMI—What seemed improbable less than a week ago is now possible:
Nets star point guard Deron Williams might play Friday night against the Heat.
Williams went through his first full practice of the preseason Thursday – dunking and cutting, trash talking teammates and questioning coaches about different sets.
It was just earlier this week that Williams, who has been recovering from a sprain and bone bruise of his right ankle, was expressing frustration about having had to sit out.
But the 15-20 minutes of full practice he put in on Tuesday helped him turn the corner. He woke up Wednesday with no setbacks and went full speed today at the University of Miami’s practice court.
“I think a lot of my stuff has been in my head,’’ said Williams. “Just getting over that mental factor.
“Once I did the 5-on-5, that was a big step for me.”
“Once I got out there, my instincts took over, I realized I’m fine.’’
Williams looked fine from the jump, cutting and planting on a defensive drill and pushing the ball in scrimmage.
When he dunked late in practice, he joked with reporters that he was giving them something to write about.
“You saw that?’’ Williams said with a chuckle.
Of course, Nets Coach Jason Kidd wasn’t ready to celebrate. Just as he is taking the long view with the playing time he’ll give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the second of back-to-back games this season, he might not want to risk a setback to Williams by getting him into the last preseason game before the season opener Oct. 30 in Cleveland.
“I haven’t even thought about him playing,’’ said Kidd. “I just want to see how he feels and then we’ll put a plan in place to see if he works out or if he plays.’’
Williams hasn’t played in a meaningful game since May 5th when the Nets dropped Game 7 of their first round playoff series to the Chicago Bulls.
Williams scored a team-high 24 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished for seven assists with no turnovers and capped a remarkable personal second-half comeback.
He struggled at the start of last season, a combination of painful bone spurs in his ankles and being slightly out of shape. But he got treatment for the spurs during the All Star break and lost weight, which helped in return to his status as one of the elite point guards in the league.
Williams was looking to build on that second half until he hurt his right ankle in an off-season workout in September. The longer he missed time in training camp and in the preseason, the more the doubts started to creep in.
“I think any time you have an injury, when you’re out for a long time - really, I haven’t played basketball since the Bulls series, that’s tough,’’ said Williams. “It’s almost like you have to learn how to jump again, and go in different directions. It’s not just about going straight, it’s about the unexpected stuff.’’
Williams was a student as much as a participant during practice. Several times he asked the coaching staff about positioning and motion.
But early on, when he threw a dazzling half court pass that found Brook Lopez under the basket, it was obvious Williams hadn’t lost his feel for the game.
“I’m not a visual person,’’ he said. “I’ve got to be out there. When I’m sitting on the sideline and we’re going through the offense I can’t really get a grasp of it.’’
“When I run it one time, I got it. When I run something, I ask a question and then I have it. That’s what I was trying to do today.’’
Now his fate, in terms of playing against the Heat, rests in Kidd’s hand. Kidd will confer with head trainer Tim Walsh, who has been more conservative with Williams’ return than a Tea Party member is on the economy.
“It’s still up in the air,’’ said Kidd. “He did most of everything. He felt better. He feels good. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. We’ll go from there.’’
On Monday Williams said that at times he didn’t feel like a member of the team. But tomorrow he could be taking the court against LeBron James and Co. Either way, his return for the season opener has never seemed more certain.