D-Will takes long road back to postseason

Nets guard Deron Williams will suit up for his first playoff game in almost three years on Saturday. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

With Deron Williams playing arguably the best basketball of his career, the Brooklyn Nets look like a dangerous team heading into the playoffs.

Since the All-Star break, the 28-year-old point guard, healthy for the first time in his Nets career, is averaging 22.9 points -- the eighth-most in the NBA over that span -- while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.

“I feel good. I feel confident,” Williams said. “I’m excited about being back in the playoffs. It’s been two years since I’ve been there, so I’m ready to go.”

D-Will hasn’t played in a postseason game since May 10, 2010, when he was a member of the Utah Jazz. Back then, he probably figured he’d be back a lot sooner than April 20, 2013.

A lot has happened in between: getting traded to the Nets. Injuries. Losing. Re-signing with the Nets for five years and $98 million. More injuries. Being labeled as a coach killer. Having his fitness called into question.

Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, no GM picked Williams as the top point guard in the league, and for the first 50 games of the season, as D-Will battled through a litany of minor injuries -- mostly to his ankles and right shooting wrist -- they were right.

But everything changed when Williams, who was averaging just 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting -- 34.7 percent from 3-point range -- at the time, took a week off to rest during the All-Star break. Over that span, he received his third set of cortisone shots in both ankles, did a three-day juice cleanse and underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment.

He’s performed like one of the best players in the league ever since. A recent New York Times report said Williams lost between 15 and 18 pounds this season and currently weighs 198.

“I don’t know,” Williams replied when asked to rate his season, a season in which he ended up averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 assists on 44 percent shooting, 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. “You rate it. You tell me. You guys are good at doing ratings and stuff.”

Williams, who already held the franchise record for points in a game (57), established a new franchise mark for 3-pointers in a single game (11) and in a single season (169).

He was always a tremendous playoff performer in Utah. In 44 postseason games, he’s averaged 21.1 points and 9.6 assists. The Jazz advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals in 2006-07.

They wouldn’t have gotten there had Williams not recorded 20 points and 14 assists in Game 7 of Utah’s first-round series in Houston. That, D-Will says, is his favorite playoff memory.

“That was big, man,” he said. “Winning a Game 7 on the road is tough. Not many teams can do that.”

Prior to this season, Williams has never had home-court advantage in the first round.

The Nets would like to make a deep playoff run. They’ll have to get through the Chicago Bulls and likely the Miami Heat to pull it off. And they’re only going to go as far as their point guard carries them.

“We just need him to be D-Will, and we’ll be fine,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said.