Nets Notebook: Deron Williams on being called New York’s ‘junior varsity’
On the Manhattan side of the East River, Carmelo Anthony is getting his knee drained, Tyson Chandler’s knee is contused and Amare Stoudemire’s just underwent knee surgery.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Deron Williams has a rejuvenated set of ankles that have allowed him to be more aggressive attacking the rim and Joe Johnson’s sore left heel is gradually returning to full strength.
In theory, that makes the Nets a decent bet to overtake the Knicks in the Atlantic Division before the regular season ends on April 17. If that does happen, it would mark the fifth division championship banner that the organization can halt.
Although the Nets are not dwelling on that possibility, they are well aware of the significance for their fans.
“You can say we’ve been the junior varsity at times,” Williams said after yesterday’s practice. “I think it definitely would mean a lot to clinch the division title to the fans, to the organization. I think it would be huge. There’s no doubt about that.
It’s huge to get back to playing playoff basketball. Some of these guys haven’t played playoff basketball. I think it means a lot to this franchise, especially in the first year being in Brooklyn. I think it means a lot to the city, so we will definitely be excited when it happens.”
The Nets currently sit two games behind the Knicks and when they take the court Sunday against Atlanta, that number might be reduced to one should the Trail Blazers and Clippers beat the Knicks. The Nets also have a magic number of four to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007, when they made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals before bowing out to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
However, before anyone gets overjoyed, there is some caution. After Sunday night, the Nets will start an eight-game road trip the following night in Detroit, followed by six straight games against Western Conference foes, a brief return to the New York area for practice and then a flight to Cleveland for a game on April 3.
“I know definitely being a New Yorker, being here for what, six or seven months, I understand how the fans feel about the Nets and the Knicks, so I know how important it is,” Johnson said.
After the trip, the Nets will have nine games remaining and a better gauge on where they stand in terms of winning the division.
“It’s possible but we still have to go out west too so at this point of the season we still have to take care of our business,” Johnson said. “We can’t worry about what the Knicks are doing or any other team we just have to come out and we have our business and everything else as far as what we play for.”
Even with that diplomatic answer, it doesn’t mean the standings aren’t being checked at this point of the season.
“I tend to peek every now and then,” Johnson said. “You kind of want to gauge where you’re at and what it’s going to take to get where we’re trying to be. Yeah, I look at it quite often actually.”
Johnson expects to play
Johnson sat out Tuesday’s game with the Hornets to rest the sore left heel which cost him the final three games of February.
However, Johnson said he definitely expects to play in his fourth game against the Hawks this season on Sunday even though he did not participate in full contact drills during Thursday’s practice.
“I’m actually doing pretty good,” Johnson said. “I am resting; it feels a lot better. I actually had no pain today, so we’re still just taking it easy.”
Since returning, Johnson has averaged 13 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting but going six days without game action could help even more, especially with a long trip on the horizon.
“It gives you time to heal up your wounds and time to relax mentally and physically, so I think it’s a great time for us,” Johnson said. “Considering the fact we probably go out west for a couple weeks, this could really help us out.”
Carlesimo looks to get Humphries back
Kris Humphries began this season as the team’s starting power forward. He started the first 18 games, when the Nets won 11 times, but quickly fell out of the rotations of coaches Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo.
Now it appears he might be returning to the rotation as the revolving door at power forward continues.
“We gotta get Hump in the lineup back soon,” Carlesimo said. “His conditioning is good. He’s done a lot of extra stuff with [trainer Jeremy Bettle]. The thing he hasn’t done is be on the floor in a while.”
Humphries made two more starts in December, but since going scoreless in his last start on Dec. 19 at New York he has played 20 minutes just eight times while playing less than 10 minutes nine times.
Most of his action has come in practices and in pregame workouts.
“It’s been tough,” Humphries said. “Before that it was tough. We really as far as the bigs haven’t had a consistent rotation. I think he was trying to have a rotation when I wasn’t playing. As a player you kind of want a rotation. Your minutes may flex but it helps the team with rhythm and stuff like that, so that’s been tough. And obviously that’s been trying.”
Even with averages of 5.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game following two seasons in which he averaged a double-double, Humphries believes those numbers can return at some point.
“I’m as confident as I’ve ever been in my game,” Humphries said. “I’m confident that if I get the minutes I’m still a double-double guy. You can’t always judge everything by numbers. Sometimes it’s not in your control, so for me it’s just helping the team win and trying not to make it about me and making it about the team winning. Obviously you have to look out for yourself and your career. But it’s a team sport.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.