By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
D. Will put on his latest statement-game performance in Big D.
And this time, Mark Cuban actually showed up.
Playing in front of his "hometown" fans and before the owner who famously blew off a summer meeting with the then-free agent All-Star point guard to tape an episode of his hit reality show "Shark Tank", Deron Williams scored all but five of his 31 points in the second half to lift the Brooklyn Nets to a 113-96 victory over Cuban's Dallas Mavericks in front of 19,962 fans at the American Airlines Center.
To his credit, Williams, who was born in West Virginia but played his high school ball and made his home in the Dallas area, didn't bite when baited to add any extra significance to his performance based on Cuban's snub of him during his well-chronicled summer of free agency. Cuban also declined to comment on the issue directly. "That's old news," he said.
"This is a big win for us. Whether it was my hometown or no matter what, it was just a big win," said Williams, who got plenty of help from All-Star center Brook Lopez's season-best 38-point, 11-rebound effort as the Nets improved to 2-0 on their eight-game, 17-day road trip and remained one game behind first-place New York in the Atlantic Division.
"It's been focus for us the last few games. We hadn't been closing teams out," added Lopez after finishing one point shy of his career high while matching his 38-point effort in Dallas last season.
Cuban was considered the top challenger to the Nets for Williams' services this past summer, but his absence during Williams' visit to Dallas baffled those who thought the playmaker extraordinaire would be a perfect running mate for former Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. So Williams returned to the Nets and has spent the last month proving he's worth every one of the $98 million the Nets handed him to be their franchise leader for the forseeable future.
Wednesday marked the second straight 31-point performance for Williams, who has eclisped the 30-point mark four times since taking a few games off prior to the All-Star break to undergo treatment on his swollen ankles as well as a juice cleansing that helped him drop a few pounds and add a couple of inches to his vertical leap.
Though was obviously up for a shot at beating the Mavs in front of friends and family, Williams didn't do much before intermisson as the Nets drew even at intermission on the strength of Lopez' brilliant play. But Williams turned up his game after the break, and put the dagger in Cuban's squad by drilling a baseline jumper to put Brooklyn in front by nine late in the fourth quarter.
"I kept telling [Williams] we're going to get you out for a minute or two in the second half, and he said, 'Are you watching what's going on?'" Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo revealed. "He played great. He also played huge minutes. That was one of our best games all year."
"Brook carried us in the first half and in the second half, Deron got hot," added shooting guard Joe Johnson, who had nine points and five assists while getting a firsthand view of the Williams-Lopez Show. "Sometimes it's not going to be everybody's night, and we've got to feed the hot hand. Brook and Deron had it going tonight."
The Nets will get a couple of days to relish the win in Dallas before Saturday night's visit to the Pacific Division-leading Clippers in Los Angeles. Williams is hoping the same group brings the same intensity to ever stop on what is shaping up as Brooklyn's most challenging stretch of its historic first season in our fair borough.
"Hopefully we can see this team for the rest of the season because this team will be hard to beat," he said.
Hoop du Jour: Though its already a foregone conclusion that the Nets will be playing playoff basketball for the first time in six seasons, it could be become official with a win over the Clippers on Saturday, or a loss by both Philadelphia and Toronto before the weekend is up. ... The last time two Nets players had at least 30 points in the same game was March 26, 2010, when Lopez (37) and Yi Jianlian (31) did it against Detroit. ... F Reggie Evans grabbed a game-high 22 boards, boosting his league-leading rebounds-per-48-minutes average to an astounding 20.7. ... After the Clippers, the Nets will visit Phoenix on Sunday, Portland on Wednesday, Denver on Friday, Utah next Saturday and Cleveland April 3 before returning to Barclays Center to host the Bulls on April 4.