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.

Report: Heat not rushing to waive Chris Bosh to keep open trade possibilities

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The Heat were always going to waive Chris Bosh after March 1, assuming a doctor jointly selected by the league and union rules his blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” And Miami, for good reason, seems pretty confident the doctor would make that determination.

Waiting until after March 1 ensured Bosh isn’t eligible for the 2016 playoffs, meaning his salary would be excluded from the Heat’s cap this summer. It would return to Miami’s cap if he plays 25 games (regular season plus postseason) elsewhere, so this guaranteed he wouldn’t have enough time this season.

But we’re well into March, and Bosh hasn’t been waived yet.

What gives?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Chris Bosh was scheduled to speak with a high-ranking Heat official this week, as the sides try to move past the rancor created by the Heat’s justified unwillingness to allow him to play after a third blood clotting episode and failed physical last September.

The Heat has no intention of using him in a game but has delayed his inevitable release and removing him from its salary cap (a process that was allowed to begin Feb. 9) for two reasons, according to multiple sources:

• Miami doesn’t need the roster spot just yet, and none of the recent available free agents held great appeal to the Heat.

• More importantly, Miami want to keep alive the not-very-likely possibility of being able to trade Bosh (after the season) to a team that might want to trade something Miami wants or a team that believes he could play or (as was the case before last month’s trade deadline) a team that needed to get to the cap floor. There were preliminary trade inquiries earlier this season.

A team that trades for Bosh couldn’t exclude his salary from its cap, because Bosh’s illness was first known while he played for Miami. He has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. It’s nearly impossible to see any team dealing for him.

A better guess at the delay: The Heat are exploring using the panels created by the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to handle issues like these. It’s unclear whether he’d be eligible for one, considering he signed and had his medical issue discovered under the current CBA, but the panel could remove his salary from Miami’s cap forever — even if Bosh defies the diagnosis and plays 25 games in a future season.

There are numerous hurdles to going that route, starting with the Heat not being able to begin that process until the next CBA takes effect July 1. That’s also the day free agency begins, so Miami probably doesn’t want have Bosh still occupying cap space as free agents agree to terms.

But the Heat have already come this far with him on the books. It’s worth examining why they’re waiting, and nobody has done that better than Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend his article on the topic.

Jae Crowder calls out Devin Booker’s teammates for celebrating his 70 points after Suns loss

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Suns guard Devin Booker scored 70 points in a game — both a historic achievement and an inflated accomplishment by a player on a bad team in a loss.

Plenty of NBA players celebrated the former.

Jae Crowder, whose Celtics beat Phoenix in Booker’s 70-point game Friday, emphasized the latter in the comment section of the NBA’s Instagram. And Booker shot back.

Via CSN New England:

The Suns have given up on winning this season. Let them enjoy this fun moment.

It fascinates me how Crowder can be so tough on the court and so sensitive on social media.

Buddy Hield goes 3, steal, 3 in Kings’ incredible comeback against Clippers (video)

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When they were down 18 in the final five minutes against the Clippers yesterday, the Kings faced, by one measure, 10,000-1 odds:

How did Sacramento overcome such daunting odds? Willie Cauley-Stein hit the game-winning putback, but no sequence was bigger than Buddy Hield making a 3-pointer, stealing the inbound pass then immediately making another 3-pointer.

Anthony Davis rattles rim with dunk on Juan Hernangomez (video)

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A sweet-shooting stretch four, Juan Hernangomez has a bright future in the NBA.

It’s not because of his rim protection.