Nets look ahead after big win

Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams expects to return to practice Monday night following a much-needed rest during the All-Star break.

"That's the plan," Williams, who missed two games due to inflammation in both ankles, told ESPNNewYork.com as he was leaving Barclays Center following his team's 119-108 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. "I feel better, but I'm still too sore to do anything [basketball-wise]."

The Nets will be glad to get their $98 million floor general back in the lineup for the second half of the season -- although they performed just fine without him.

Two days after gutting out a victory over the Pacers in Indiana on Monday night, the Nets (31-22) exploded for a season-high 119 points and tied a season high for 3-pointers made with 16 in their rout of the Nuggets. They shot 54.7 percent from the field, and scored a combined 72 points in the second and third quarters -- periods in which they often struggle.

Going into Wednesday's game, the Nets ranked 21st in the NBA in scoring (94.7 points per game). But from the opening tipoff, they flat-out executed. Their spacing was perfect, they were swinging the ball around the perimeter and they didn't run too many isolation plays.

The results spoke for themselves.

C.J. Watson had his best game of the season, rebounding from an 0-for-7 performance to notch season highs in points (25) and assists (six). Joe Johnson chipped in a game-high-tying 26 points -- his first 20-point game since Jan. 21 -- to go along with a season-high nine assists. Brook Lopez, who will play in his first All-Star Game on Sunday in Houston, added 23 points and eight rebounds.

"You can enjoy your break a little bit better with a win like this," Johnson said. "We're relaxed, we'll be able to heal some of the wounds that some of the guys got, and get back to work on Monday."

Still, the Nets have yet to establish a true identity for themselves, leaving veteran leader Gerald Wallace (eight points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks) to wonder whether it'll ever come in the second half.

"You walk into the locker room and you never know what you're going to get," Wallace said. "It just shows, when we come to play and everybody's playing, the ball's moving and we're talking on defense, we're pretty hard to beat.

"Everybody knows the potential we have as a team, but y'all can't give us the benefit of the doubt if we keep playing for two games and then we sit down for two games. ... We've got to get more consistent. We understand that we're not going to win every game, but we've got to be more consistent in our offense and our defense."

While the Nets have amassed their fourth-most wins before the All-Star break in franchise history, they've struggled to beat elite teams, going 13-20 against opponents with .500-or-better records. Eleven of those 20 losses have been by 10 or more points.

For a team with aspirations of making a deep playoff run in the Eastern Conference, that has to change.

"I want us to be a tough team," Johnson said, when asked what type of identity he wants the Nets to establish. "I think at times we're a little fragile. When teams make runs on us, we have a tendency to maybe not come back so strong. We have to develop that tough edge and that mental toughness in that second half of the season.

"I think we're capable of being one of the top teams. We already understand that. We've shown it. We've just got to get some consistency, especially down the stretch. We want to position ourselves to make a big push. I'm sure guys will come back focused."

If they do and get healthy, the Nets will be a tough matchup for any team, capable of winning -- just like they did by 17 in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2 -- on any given night.