DALLAS -- Just another game for Deron Williams, huh?
For as well as Williams has been playing after emerging from the All-Star break healthy and slim, that might not be stretching the truth too much.
Just a guy who plays on another team? Yeah, Mark Cuban’s pregame attempt to downplay D-Will’s return to Dallas was way off the mark.
Maybe Williams really didn’t draw any extra motivation from his summer flirtation with his hometown team and fall back-and-forth with Cuban after deciding to be the face of the Nets’ move to Brooklyn. But Williams definitely gave the Dallas Mavericks a painful glimpse of exactly what they missed out on when their free agency pitch to Williams failed.
Williams torched the Mavs for 26 of his 31 points in the second half of the Nets’ 113-96 win, lighting up whichever overmatched Dallas guard was unfortunate enough to draw that defensive assignment, scoring on a variety of jumpers and drives.
Perhaps the prettiest of Williams’ 11 buckets in the second half: an 18-foot fadeaway that he launched just a few feet from Cuban’s courtside seat. That stretched the Nets’ lead to nine, prompting Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to call a timeout and Williams to crack a huge smile while glancing at the Dallas bench.
“When you’re feeling good and feel like you can’t miss,” Williams said, “it’s a good feeling.”
An especially good feeling because of Cuban’s claims that the Mavs were “better off” without Williams? If that was the case, Williams certainly wouldn’t admit it.
He stuck with his pregame claim that the only reasons the Nets’ annual trip to Dallas was special was because he got to play in front of friends and family and loved shooting at the American Airlines Center. Williams figured the cheers from those folks drowned out the smattering of boos from bitter Mavs fans when his name was announced with the Nets starters.
“I always get up for the games at home just because it’s home and given the situation,” said Williams, who kissed his wife and one of his children at courtside before heading to the Nets locker room after the game. “Honestly, I tried to attack it as a regular game. I didn’t eat anything special. It was a regular game for us, but a big game for us.”
After a rough first half of the season, Williams is having big games on a regular basis now.
Williams is back to being the point guard who had two franchises trying to convince him to accept their max offers this summer. (It must be mentioned, though, that Cuban didn’t exactly go the extra mile, opting to film “Shark Tank” in California instead of travel to New York with the rest of the Mavs’ recruiting party to meet with Williams.)
Since the All-Star break, when Williams dropped weight with a juice-cleansing program and got cortisone and platelet-rich plasma injections to help his ailing ankles, the Nets’ franchise player has been earning his money. Williams has averaged 23.9 points on 48 percent shooting since the break, scoring at least 30 points four times in 15 games.
“If you looked at the League Pass the last couple of weeks, he’s been on fire,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “He’s been moving better. I don’t know if he had health problems early in the season, but he looks way more aggressive. He’s in a groove. I don’t think it had anything to do with tonight. He wanted to win the game and he took it over.”
Added Carlisle: “He’s just a great player that got in a groove.”
Williams played a facilitating role in the first half, patiently running the offense while big men Brook Lopez (season-high 38 points) and Andray Blatche (14 points, all before halftime) kept the Nets in the game.
It became Williams’ game early in the third quarter. He got hot while exploiting a mismatch against the smaller Darren Collison and kept on rolling.
“He was so much more aggressive in the second half,” Dallas center Elton Brand said. “You could see it in his eyes. He wanted the next one. He was going to shoot no matter what. I know he wanted to prove a point, but I didn’t think he was overly aggressive. He’s just playing at a really high level right now.”
Kinda makes you wonder how the Mavs might be faring if they had Williams as the starting point guard instead of 37-year-old journeyman Mike James, huh?
Nowitzki, who led the Mavs with 16 points on 80-percent shooting but got only 10 field goal attempts, doesn’t want to go down the what-coulda-been road.
“He’s an exceptional player,” Nowitzki said. “We knew that before. That’s why we were trying to recruit him, so this is nothing new. He’s been one of the best point guards in this league.
“We had to move on as a franchise, though. We can’t be lingering. He made a decision last summer and I think both franchises moved on. That’s where we’re at.”
With Williams, the Nets are headed for the playoffs. Without him, the Mavs need a miracle to reach the postseason, especially after Williams’ game got the last word Wednesday night.