Deron Williams

The Extra Pass: Deron Williams is the difference for Nets; plus Thursday’s recaps

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By Brett Pollakoff

NEW YORK — It was only a week ago that the Nets were a sinking ship on the verge of capsizing completely, following consecutive losses at home where the team didn’t even seem capable of competing much less staying close enough to win for anywhere near the requisite 48 minutes.

Jason Kidd may or may not have been on the hot seat, depending on your view, but it was clear there was some frustration beginning to creep into the inner circles of a team that entered the season with so much promise.

But injuries have played a huge role in how things have unfolded in Brooklyn thus far, and as it turned out, last week’s embarrassing 30-point loss to the Knicks that had both players and coaches searching for answers ended up being the team’s last to date. Behind a second straight strong performance from Deron Williams, the Nets overcame a slow start and blew out the Clippers 102-93 for their third straight win, the longest such streak the team has seen this season.

“He is the head of the snake that drives this engine,” Paul Pierce said of his point guard afterward. “We’re a whole different team, just the way we play offensively and defensively with him out there.”

Williams was electric in this one, particularly during the second quarter where he seemed to become noticeably engaged while battling Chris Paul.

After the Nets fell behind by 12 points in the first quarter, the bench unit came in and closed the gap. When Williams returned with just under six minutes left before halftime, the game was tied. But he made sure to give his team some separation with a series of crossovers that freed him for open looks, the final one coming after he lost Paul at the top of the arc and then finished at the rim to push the Nets lead to 12 at the break.

Williams scored 12 points in that short span, and cleanly outplayed Paul in just his second game back from injury.

The Nets are a team lacking in speed and athleticism for the most part, but Williams solves a lot of that at the point guard position. Without him, the offense simply couldn’t go. With him playing at an All-Star level, it’s an entirely different story — one that the team hoped they would get to see play out far differently than things have so far.

“He has to be our leader,” Pierce said. “Hands down. He changes the outlook of this team. I mean, if you just look — we look like a whole different team now with him out there, the way we’re able to get easier baskets, put pressure on the defense. Understanding what we’re trying to accomplish out there, a lot of times we look kind of unorganized. But with him out there, as a leader and as a point guard, he’s getting us in the right spots. And that’s what I envisioned.”

Williams is confident in what he does and what he brings to the table, but was humble at the same time in discussing what the difference has been over these last couple of games — wins that have turned the Nets from a certifiable disaster to a team that appears to be, at the very least, headed in the right direction.

“You can see that kind of the energy has picked up, the pace has picked up,” Williams said. “I think, you know, I have a little bit to do with that, but I can’t take all the credit. We’re playing well right now as a team, we’re moving the ball, we’re helping each other out, we’re talking. It looks like we’re having fun out there, so I think that’s the difference.”

The biggest difference may just be the Nets finally getting healthy, although they lost Brook Lopez in the third quarter of this one with another ankle injury. Lopez was upbeat in the locker room afterward and said he will travel with the team and hopes not to miss any time, but that his status for the next game will ultimately be in the team trainer’s hands.

Williams firmly in place, though, significantly increases Brooklyn’s chances for success. He wouldn’t make too much out of a small winning streak, but clearly sees the possibility of the pieces beginning to fit now that he’s back in action.

“It’s getting that way,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep it going. While I was sitting out, looking at the standings we knew we were still in it. Even though as poorly as we played, as bad as things have been, a couple games could turn it around. It’s our first win streak of the season, so hopefully we can keep it going and build something special.”

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Nets 102, Clippers 93: This game started pretty much as we all expected — the Clippers starters overwhelmed the Nets starters and were up 12 in the first quarter. The Nets defense was awful and the Clipper ball movement was beautiful. We knew how this would go… and then the two teams started to get into their benches. Everything changed. Brooklyn started playing much better defense and put up 36 points in the second quarter. Suddenly we had a game. Except we didn’t. A 14-4 Nets run late in the first half and a 12-4 run early in the second turned this into a Nets rout. Joe Johnson had 21 points and Deron Williams had an awesome second quarter on his way to 15. Great win for Brooklyn and Jason Kidd, on the flip side Doc Rivers isn’t going to sleep well tonight. The Clippers are now 5-6 against the lowly East.

Trail Blazers 111, Rockets 104: Go ahead and add Houston to the list of top teams the Trail Blazers have knocked off lately. Once again they did it with a stellar offense (109.7 points per 100 possessions pace) and just enough defense to get it done. LaMarcus Aldridge started 1-of-8 shooting then found a groove and was 11-of-14 the rest of the way to finish with 31 points and 25 rebounds. Dwight Howard put up 32 points and 17 rebounds and James Harden had 25, helping the Rockets tie the game at 76-76 after three quarters, but a 10-0 Blazers run to start the fourth gave the Blazers a lead they never lost.

Late turnovers, dubious foul call on DeMarcus Cousins sinks Kings vs. Bulls (VIDEO)

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The Sacramento Kings committed a costly turnover during a tie game with just 14 seconds to go to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Thankfully, they were gifted with a missed Dwyane Wade layup to give them another possession!

Well, they would have been if DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t called for one of the softest fouls you’re likely to see this NBA season.

That gave the Bulls a chance to convert two free throws — of which Wade hit one — and then an opportunity at the other end to tie or win.

Unfortunately, Cousins lost the ball on the next Sacramento possession, which sealed the game for Chicago, 102-99.

Cousins was not happy with the outcome of the game, thrashing a garbage can in the hallway of the United Center and giving some interesting quotes to reporters.

Everyone set your mobile notifications for tomorrow’s L2M report.

Marcus Morris tips in game-winner over brother Markieff as Pistons best Wizards (VIDEO)

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Marcus Morris scored 25 points and tipped in the winning basket at the buzzer, leading the Detroit Pistons to a 113-112 victory over Washington on Saturday night for their third straight win.

Reggie Jackson had 19 points and eight assists, while Tobias Harris added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who let a 16-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before Morris’ big bucket.

John Wall finished with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Markieff Morris added 19 points and nine rebounds for Washington, which had its four-game win streak snapped.

The Wizards took a 112-111 lead on Bradley Beal‘s two free throws with 1:13 left. Detroit had numerous chances to win on its final possession before Marcus Morris tipped in Harris’ missed runner with no time left.

The Pistons led 98-82 after three quarters, but the Wizards fought back, getting within six at 105-99 on Markieff Morris’ layup. The teams traded baskets over the next few minutes before Washington gained a 110-109 advantage on Morris’ dunk with 2:14 remaining.

Washington scored the first nine points of the game, but the Pistons took their first lead, 20-19, on Marcus Morris’ 3-pointer and led 30-26 after the first quarter.

Detroit took its biggest edge of the half, 41-30, on Reggie Bullock‘s 3-pointer. The Wizards got within three points on two occasions, but trailed 61-55 at the break.

The Pistons controlled the third quarter, building their lead to 16 points on Ish Smith‘s free throw to end the period.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Danuel House Jr. (right wrist fracture) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) did not play. … Washington played its third straight close game, beating New York 113-110 and Memphis 104-101 in their last two. … G Trey Burke played college basketball at Michigan. He finished Saturday with seven points off the bench.

Pistons: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (left rotator cuff strain) did not play. … Detroit capped its five game West Coast trip with a 102-97 win over the Lakers and beat Atlanta 118-95 in their first game back at the Palace. … Pistons F Marcus Morris and Washington F Markieff Morris are brothers and former teammates in Phoenix.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Monday at Charlotte.

Pistons: Host Sacramento on Monday.

Watch Nik Stauskas — yes, Nik Stauskas — posterize Thabo Sefolosha (VIDEO)

Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) of Canada, reacts after making a shot while being fouled as Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, of Switzerland, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
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Nik Stauskas — sometimes better known as Sauce Castillo — is mostly known for shooting 3-pointers for the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s why, when he dunked all over Atlanta Hawks wing Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday, it was even more surprising.

The play happened late in the second quarter, and it really was all Kent Bazemore‘s fault. He tried to hack at Stauskas instead of using lock and trail defense at the 3-point line, leaving poor Sefolosha to unexpectedly help out down low.

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Yeah, nothing you can do about that. Saucy.

Blazers C Meyers Leonard dunks on Celtics’ Mickey twice in five minutes (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic young guy who has made a name for himself as a fade man off the pick-and-roll. But against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Leonard decided to roll to the hoop instead, and it sort of worked out.

Unless you’re Jordan Mickey, in which case it didn’t.

The first poster dunk came during the final minute of the first quarter in Boston, where the Blazers were running a sideline out of bounds play.

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The second came at 9:51 in the second quarter, with Leonard again rolling to the rack on a play with Allen Crabbe. Mickey again wound up as the help man, and again found himself on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

We’ll just forgive that off arm for now.