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.

John Wall scores 40, dishes 14 assists as Wizards drub Lakers

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WASHINGTON (AP) Amid all of his team’s losses and infighting and roster flux, John Wall showed just how well he’s capable of playing, producing 40 points and 14 assists to lead the Washington Wizards past a sluggish LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, 128-110 Sunday night.

A day after he and Lonzo Ball each registered a triple-double in a win at Charlotte, James was limited to a season-low 13 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while making just five of 16 shots. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the fourth quarter.

The Wizards emphatically ended a four-game losing streak, going up by as many as 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They took full advantage of an opponent playing on a second consecutive night, although James and the Lakers had been 5-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets this season.

The Lakers opened Sunday’s game by going 5 for 19, 0 for 8 on 3s. Washington, meanwhile, made its first five shots and 13 of its first 18, taking a 26-8 lead on Wall’s layup.

Wall’s play was often spectacular, including one no-look, through-the-legs pass to Sam Dekker for an easy bucket.

The All-Star point guard ended the first half with a step-back baseline rainbow jumper over 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler to make it 71-51. Wall turned and slapped palms with a couple of front-row folks, then spread his arms wide and basked in the ovation.

By then, Wall already had 28 points, outscoring LA’s five starters – James, Ball, Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – by six.

Recently acquired reserve forward Dekker scored a season-high 20 for Washington, including a buzzer-beating bank shot at the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead 99-76.

Washington’s Bradley Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 25 points for the Lakers, 15 in the second quarter.

Washington was without starting center Dwight Howard, who had back surgery, and injured starting forward Otto Porter Jr., while a pair of players – Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers – were unavailable because they are on their way out of town via a trade that is still not officially complete.

“We’re playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before tipoff, “and we definitely are undermanned.”

Didn’t matter on this night.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C JaVale McGee missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … A pair of sneakers James wore during a game at the Wizards a year ago Monday – one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each – was recently placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. … Ball finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Wizards: The deal bringing Trevor Ariza to Washington from the Phoenix Suns is still not official, so Oubre and Rivers were listed as inactive Sunday because of “trade pending.” … Markieff Morris left at halftime because of a neck strain. … Porter missed his third game in a row with a bruised knee. … Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and scored 20 points.

UP NEXT:

Lakers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday to close a four-game road trip.

Wizards: At Atlanta on Tuesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Paul George asked Billy Donovan not to run plays for him last year

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Oklahoma City Thunder are top-heavy team. Outside of their top three or four players, the Thunder aren’t very deep, and if any either Russell Westbrook or Paul George are out for any length of time, they are in serious trouble.

This season the Thunder are a surprising 18-10, good enough for third in the Western Conference at the time of publication. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Paul George since coming to Oklahoma City last season exchange for Victor Oladipo, and according to a recent feature at ESPN George asked his coach for one specific thing.

This may seem strange, but George reportedly wanted coach Billy Donovan to stop running plays for him.

Despite Donovan having watched hours of game film on George to see where he could get him the ball where he’s most successful, that kind of careful planning didn’t fit how George likes to attack the game.

Via ESPN:

“At times he’s like, ‘Stop — just let me get it,'” Donovan said. “I had to learn him. I can watch things on film and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good play and he made that shot, let’s run that,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

“I’ve always been a guy to just let the game come to me. Just play the game,” George said. “If it’s a shot for me, if I can make a play, create for someone else, I’ll do that. A lot of times you run a play, everybody’s watching, everybody’s locked in, everybody’s pulling over and it just makes the game tougher for me.

“I like it when I can kind of manipulate and be on attack mode where they don’t know what to do, as opposed to a play other teams [can] scout.”

Basketball is a team sport and it’s not just about the guys who are on the court. No doubt it was difficult for Donovan to give up some of the play-calling he specifically designed for George, but apparently it was the best thing for the team.

Report: Sixers want first rounder, have shot down multiple trades for Markelle Fultz

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What’s going on with Markelle Fultz? That’s the question everyone wants to know not only in the Philadelphia 76ers organization, but around the NBA.

The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled with his shot the last two seasons, and his recent diagnosis of the thoracic outlet syndrome isn’t the end of the story. Teams have reportedly been asking around about Fultz, and there have even been some denials about which teams are interested in the young guard.

This week Candace Buckner published an excellent profile of Fultz and some potential issues caused for him by an over-domineering inner circle. That profile also had sourced information from Buckner saying that the Sixers continue to field trade calls from interested parties for Fultz.

Via Washington Post:

While the Sixers pledge to support their player in his recovery process and are believed to have a relationship with Brothers and Fultz’s inner circle, the organization has been protective in its own way. According to people in the league, the Sixers have rejected multiple trade offers for Fultz. It’s not just that Philadelphia remains hopeful of getting Fultz on track to be a star in Philadelphia — much like prior top picks Ben Simmons and Embiid, who both missed their rookie seasons because of injuries. The Sixers have not received trade offers with what they believe to be equal value, a telling sign that indicates how other teams in the league view Fultz and the rocky start to his career.

If you are a fan looking in from the outside, this tells you two things. First, that no matter how much a player appears to be damaged goods, NBA GMs will do their due diligence and make a call to see if they can nab a player on the cheap.

Second, it lets you know that Fultz’s value right now is only at that “first call” level. Fultz showed a lot of promise during one season with the University of Washington, and that’s enough for Philadelphia to hold out on trading him for spare parts at this juncture. When we start getting word of teams sending actual, meaningful offers, that might give us a sort of triangulated idea of his stock around the league (and perhaps his recovery).

The Sixers’ asking price, for the moment, remains high. According to Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, 76ers brass are looking for a first round pick as part of the exchange in any Fultz deal. What that translates to is, Philadelphia isn’t ready to deal just yet.

Via Philly.com:

The ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.

A league source said the Sixers don’t want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they’re not talking about a late first-rounder, either.

League executives believe the Sixers will settle for less as it gets closer to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, because there really isn’t a trade market for Fultz right now. There’s too much skepticism surrounding his shooting woes and his shoulder issues.

Fultz is due $9.7 million next season but then has a player option for 2020-21 of $12.2 million. Since the Sixers still have time, we might be hanging around for a while to see Fultz in any other jersey outside of Philly.

What was Klay Thompson trying to say during this interview?

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In-game interviews are both an interesting layer of texture that adds depth to a TV broadcast and perhaps a distracting commitment for those playing or coaching in an NBA game.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen.

As the Golden State Warriors took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Klay Thompson was pulled aside for an in-game interview with our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson was asked a question by Kerith Burke about ball movement leading to 3-pointers. Thompson was apparently in need of some sports drink because his answer was a little loopy.

Here’s what Thompson said in response to Burke:

“It’s great on both si— uh. It’s great, both of them are great. And we’re getting out and pushing them on the pace. That’s when we’re at our best.”

I’m not sure what I can parse from that. Maybe you can do better?

Thompson had 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Kings, 130-125.