- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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This isn’t just about Deron Williams.
It’s about Joe Johnson, too.
It’s about the Brooklyn Nets' backcourt failing to live up to expectations, struggling through injuries, wanting so desperately to perform well yet failing to deliver.
To know Williams and Johnson is to appreciate their honesty, their candidness, their willingness to speak the truth in times good and bad.
And lately, it has been mostly bad.
Williams and Johnson each shot 4-for-14 from the field Thursday night in a 92-76 loss to the Chicago Bulls at United Center. And so here we are at the All-Star break, a time to rest -- at least for Williams, anyway -- and hopefully a time to get healthy.
“It’s definitely needed,” Williams told reporters in Chicago, according to Newsday. “I’m going to step away for a little bit and get my mind right more than anything.”
Since receiving a cortisone shot and a PRP injection in both of his ankles, Williams is averaging a pedestrian 12.7 points, 6.2 assists and 2.2 turnovers on 41.1 percent shooting -- including 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
In his past four games, those numbers are worse: 11.3 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 turnovers, 36.6 percent shooting, 26.7 percent 3-point shooting. He had six turnovers Thursday.
“I just want to get healthy again, man,” Williams said earlier this week. “If I get healthy, I know what can happen. It’s been a frustrating two years for me injury-wise. It’s something I can’t really control. Hopefully I can figure it out this summer and then go from there.”
Johnson, of course, is headed to New Orleans, the seventh time he’ll play in the All-Star game.
Despite hitting a pair of game-winning buzzer-beaters and playing pretty consistently, even Johnson said he was surprised.
Currently dealing with tendinitis in his right knee, Johnson is averaging just 10.2 points in his past five games on 36.7 percent shooting.
While it might be better to skip the game, Johnson, who is also competing in the 3-point Shootout, views it as an honor and wants to go. And who can blame him?
The Nets (24-27) have turned their season around since the new year, going 14-6. They have thrived by going small, buying into their roles and playing tenacious defense. But they continue to struggle in the second half of back-to-backs (2-10) and against taller teams (0-9 against Indiana, Detroit and Chicago).
But if they’re going to go anywhere in the playoffs, they need Williams and Johnson to play like their combined $40 million in salaries dictates they should.
And that was the case Thursday night. Garnett thrived in 25 minutes, recording four points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Pierce elevated his game to score 15 points after being held scoreless for the first 17 minutes.
As for Williams and Johnson? Well, Williams committed a critical turnover after the Nets got within 56-53 in the third quarter, which sparked a 6-0 run by the Bulls, while Johnson got tangled up with Jimmy Butler earlier in the period and the two had to be separated, each earning a double-technical for the skirmish.
Clearly, both Williams and Johnson care. They never gave up -- even as the Bulls closed the game on a 17-4 run, taking advantage after Nets coach Jason Kidd decided to rest Garnett midway through the fourth quarter.
But the Nets never did get that payback Williams said they wanted after being blown out by Chicago on Christmas.
And now they can only hope the All-Star break will revitalize and rejuvenate Williams and Johnson.
Because Brooklyn is going to need its $40 million backcourt to be healthy and productive if it wants to do any damage in the postseason.
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