With Joe Johnson Limited, Pressure Now Squarely On Deron Williams

Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com

Deron WilliamsNEW YORK — The good news is that Joe Johnson’s “sore heel” isn’t believed to be serious. The bad news is that even if he’s able to play on it, it is something that may linger for the rest of the season.

Hello, Deron Williams.

On Friday, when news first broke of Johnson’s injury, general manager Billy King downplayed the severity of it. He initially said that Johnson had a “sore heel,” but in the same breath, called the injury plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot, and it’s a persistent injury that has historically plagued older perimeter players. Most notably, Latrell Sprewell and Glen Rice—two former Knicks—had season long battles with it back in the early 2000s.

Johnson’s bout with the ailment may not be as serious as that, considering he was able to participat in practice on Saturday morning. But still, he was limited. Officially, he’s listed as “questionable” for Sunday night’s matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, but even if he is able to play against Zach Randolph and co., it’s reasonable to believe that he’ll be limited for the rest of the season.

Hello (again), Deron Williams.

The Nets have been an up-and-down team all season. Long winning streaks have been followed by similarly long losing streaks. And after Johnson wasn’t able to go on Friday night, the Nets dropped a 106-96 decision to James Harden and his Houston Rockets.

Johnson may be the Nets highest paid player, but Williams is the franchise and now that Johnson is hurt, all eyes are on Williams.

Though Johnson is still putting up numbers below his career averages, he has only solidified his place among the NBA’s most clutch players. Amazingly, he has made nine of the 10 shot attempts he’s taken when there were 30 seconds or less remaining in a three point game.

But if he’s limited, though C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans will likely each receive a minutes bump, the pressure will fall squarely on Williams.

When the game is on the line, if Johnson isn’t there to take the shot, D-Will will.

And if he fails to come through, nobody will remember the cortisone shots and nobody will remember the fact that Williams is battling his own tissue inflammation in his ankles.

Williams has been playing through pain and he deserves credit for that. He also deserves credit for coming out of the break and stringing together a three game stretch in which he’s dished out at least 30 assists. On Friday night, he clinched that mark for just the third time this season.

And entering play on Saturday, the Nets have a very realistic shot of winning the NBA’s Atlantic Division. The Knicks lead is suddenly down to just a single game and a Nets victory would have given the Nets a virtual tie for the division lead, even though they would have trailed the Knicks by two games in the loss column, instead, its three. It was a lost opportunity, so the Knicks lead remains.

Though his ankles are ailing, the question that should be asked of Williams is how strong his back is and how broad his shoulders are. With just 26 games remaining in the season, he will have to carry this team through to the finish line.

How the team fares over the season-long eight game road trip that begins on March 18 will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Nets can win the Atlantic Division for the first time since 2006. But if the Nets are to stay afloat until then, if Johnson is limited, it’s all on D-Will.

Goodbye, Deron Williams.

See you on Sunday. And rest assured, Nets Nation will be watching closely.

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