NEWARK, N.J. -- Deron Williams still doesn’t like Prudential Center.
But the Nets point guard certainly played well there on Sunday night.
Williams scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, shot 8-for-17 from the field, added 10 assists and nine rebounds -- one rebound shy of recording his first-career triple-double -- and the Nets took care of the lowly Bobcats, 97-87.
“I just saw some openings,” said Williams, who made four of his first five shots and finished with 11 of the Nets’ 28 first-quarter points -- nine more than they normally average. “I was a little more aggressive [Sunday], especially in the first half. Teammates were getting open, and the offense was flowing better.”
You think? The Nets (5-12) tied their season-low by shooting 31 percent in a 10-point loss to the Thunder on Saturday night, but turned it around a day later, scoring a season-high 58 points in the first half on 50 percent shooting.
Williams was in attack mode from the opening tip. After missing a 20-footer, the 27-year-old All-Star converted a driving layup, a finger-roll, a six-footer and a 3-pointer as the Nets turned a 7-0 hole into a 28-21 lead after the opening stanza -- their largest lead following a first quarter this season; The Nets have outscored their opponents in the first quarter just three times in their first 17 games.
“That’s something we talked about in shootaround,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Having a better start. Attacking the paint and getting better spacing.”
The Nets wound up shooting 44.2 percent overall -- or 6.2 percent better than they had in their first six games at home, which prompted Williams to say, “I don’t like this arena one bit,” on Saturday night.
“It wasn’t an excuse,” Williams said. “I was making no excuses when you guys asked me if I liked the arena. There is no excuse for shooting bad, it has nothing to do with the arena.”
After leading by as many as 19 and rolling to victory -- save for a stagnant stretch in the fourth quarter -- against a 3-14 Bobcats squad that lost starter D.J. Augustine to a toe injury, Williams didn’t need one.
“They weren’t the best defensive team we’ve played against,” Williams quipped.
He might need one -- or 10 -- against the 15-3 Bulls in Chicago on Monday night, though, when the Nets wrap up their first of two back-to-back-to-back stretches in 2011-12.
“I think if you ask me [Monday] morning, that’s when it’ll really matter,” Williams replied when asked how he was feeling. “It does sting that they’re just sitting there waiting for us, but that’s part of the business.”
That’s for sure, especially in a lockout shortened season when teams are playing nearly four games a week. Williams said he last endured a back-to-back-to-back stretch in October while playing overseas in the Turkish Cup. Prior to that, he had to go all the way back to his days playing AAU ball.
“But that’s probably nothing compared to three NBA games in three days,” Williams admitted.
Reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose is expected to return from a toe injury on Monday night.
Aren’t the Nets lucky?
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Williams said. “He puts so much pressure on defenses, and I don’t think there’s anyone personally that can guard him by themselves. Now that he’s improved his shooting, he’s tough to guard.”
Oh well. No excuses, right?
• Johnson said the Nets played their best zone defense of the season in Sunday’s game. The Nets hadn’t been playing zone, Johnson said, but the coach “had it in his back pocket.” He pulled it out, and it worked. Williams said the Nets haven’t had much of a chance to practice the zone this season. ... Jordan Farmar had 13 points off the bench in 22 minutes, and Johnson says he’s playing his best basketball as a Net. The Nets got 43 points from their bench. ... They outrebounded Charlotte, 47-34.