DALLAS – Deron Williams swears he didn’t so much as wink at Mark Cuban seated baseline as the Brooklyn Nets point guard delivered a 31-point, six-assist wrecking ball to the Dallas Mavericks’ rapidly collapsing playoff chances.
A chip on his shoulder? Not if you believe Williams. Wednesday’s 113-96 win was just like any other his team badly needs. And after inflicting a world of hurt on Cuban and his club, Williams didn’t gloatingly tweet the Mavs owner a la Kobe Bryant, who went for 38 after being tweaked by the outspoken owner a couple of weeks ago.
No, the sharp stick to Cuban’s side was surprisingly wielded by interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
“I don’t know,” Carlesimo said when asked if Williams, who scored 26 points in the second half and 13 in the fourth quarter, carried a chip on his shoulder. “But, I’m sure [Williams] understands you’re not going to expect intelligent statements from Mark anyhow.”
Williams spurned his hometown team last July as a free agent when he chose to re-sign with the Nets for a max deal of five years and $98 million. Afterward, Williams said he was surprised that Cuban, who was busy in Los Angeles filming the TV show “Shark Tank,” didn’t make the trip to New York to personally sell him on joining the Mavs. Williams said Cuban’s absence helped shape his decision to play in Brooklyn. Cuban responded by saying on a local radio program that his club is actually better off without Williams and the max deal he would have received weighing down the payroll.
“I always get up for the games at home because it’s home and given the situation,” Williams said, who came as close as any time previously of acknowledging a rift with Cuban by referencing ‘the situation.’ “Honestly, I just tried to attack it as a regular game. My thought process was the same today as it is any other game. I didn’t need anything special. It was just a regular game for us, but a big game for us.”
As the Mavs (32-36) limp away from a 14th home loss and the sour opening of a crucial six-game homestand dominated by East opponents, the Nets (40-28) skipped off to sunny Los Angeles for a couple of days of rest and practice before seeking a third consecutive victory on this brutal eight-game trek against the Clippers.
Williams, who hails from a Dallas suburb about 25 miles from the American Airlines Center, is playing his best basketball of the season, rejuvenated from an All-Star break cocktail of platelet-rich plasma therapy, juice cleanser and cortisone shots into both his ailing ankles.
He’s put up 31 points in consecutive games and is averaging 23.9 ppg on 48 percent shooting since the break. Williams refused to talk about his health, offering only a smart-aleck answer when asked if he’s feeling as good as he has all season.
“I really appreciate your concern with my health,” Williams said. “I really do. Thank you.”
We’ll just have to trust the numbers, his teammates, his coach and what he’s telling his coach.
“I kept telling him I would get him out a minute or two in the second half,” said Carlesimo, who played Williams all but 52 seconds of the second half and 41 minutes in all. “And he goes, ‘Are you watching what’s going on out there? So, obviously we didn’t take him out until the the end. I’m not saying that’s as good as we can play, but that’s one of our best games obviously all year.”
Williams got needed help from center Brook Lopez, who matched the 38 points he scored last season in Dallas. Andray Blatche hit six of seven shots and scored all of his 14 points in the first half. Reggie Evans pulled down 22 rebounds in 32 minutes. Gerald Wallace came up with five steals. Joe Johnson dished five assists.
Unlike a few nights ago when the Nets failed to catch their cross-town rival in the East standings by being embarrassed on their home floor by the Atlanta Hawks, they turned up the defensive pressure and poured it on Dallas with 66 points in the second half. Williams and Lopez combined for 46.
With 14 games left and six to go on this so-far 2-0 road trip that Williams said will “define our season,” we are left to wonder where this team, that has mastered the bit of game-to-game inconsistency, will fare now that Williams is again playing like an All-Star.
When the fourth-place Nets finally return home on April 4, after also road-tripping through Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland, the No. 2 seed could be within their grasp or a first-round series at home could be falling through their fingers. Brooklyn is two games back of No. 2 Indiana and two games ahead of No. 5 Atlanta.
“This is a good trip for us at the right time,” Williams said. “It’ll define the season for us because we have some tough games ahead of us. We have a lot of days off, but we also have a lot of back-to-backs, which is tough. We’ve got to maintain focus for the rest of the trip and make sure that we don’t slip up.”