Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There's no doubt Deron Williams believes in his coach's system. He preaches it, thrives on it, makes millions of dollars running it with expertise.
Screens. Pick-and-rolls. Cuts. Passing.
Williams buys it all.
He even believes the Utah Jazz need to stick to that team-emphasizing game plan as the second-round series shifts from Los Angeles to the Beehive State.
"We have to do a better job executing," Williams said at Friday's practice.
Here's where the proverbial "but" comes in.
There's a little rebel in Williams that makes him want to become a bit creative and try something different after early personal and team struggles against the lengthy Lakers.
"You don't want to take quick shots against this team, so I try to run the offense," Williams explained. "But I'm going to have to break some plays and kind of freelance like I did in the first series."
That freelancing — going a little Tony Hawk on the hardwood — led to a first-round series of the ages for Williams. Against Denver, he averaged 25.8 points and 11.3 assists while asserting his will in leading the shorthanded Jazz to an upset 4-2 win.
Things haven't gone nearly as smoothly against the defending NBA champions.
Williams' scoring has dipped to 19.5 points and he's dishing out 8.5 assists an outing. Still good numbers, just not as great as they recently were. His shooting accuracy has dipped from the brilliant six-game spurt vs. Denver in which he hit about half his shots to 35.5 percent against the Lakers.
With that and a frightening 0-3 deficit looming with a loss tonight in mind, Williams wants to return to the way he played in Round 1 as much as possible.
Problem is, he's facing the far-superior Lakers now, not the discombobulated Nuggets.
"They're just a better team, a better defensive team," Williams said of Los Angeles. "But I've just got to be more aggressive.
"A lot of my scoring in the first series was calling the play and breaking it off because teams scout you so well," he added. "You have to make adjustments, (then) do things off of certain plays."
That didn't happen in Game 2, when he said he was so worried about running the offense and not taking bad shots that he "didn't get the right shots" for himself or teammates.
"I'll do a better job of that this game," he said.
It almost seems like Williams, just named to the All-NBA second team, should have struggled more against the Nuggets. Denver starts an All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP at the point in Chauncey Billups. Plus Williams was matched against lightning-quick Ty Lawson and defensive specialist Arron Afflalo.
Talent-wise, nobody would argue the Lakers have the edge over Williams at the playmaker position, considering L.A. has veteran Derek Fisher and backups Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar.
But the Lakers' length has bothered him as much as it has the Jazz bigs — everything from dealing with being guarded by 6-foot-7 Ron Artest, to having long arms and bodies in his path and in his passing lanes, to not being able to find guys as open in the paint.
"Just every time I turn the corner I have three guys on me," Williams said, "and two of them are usually 7-footers, so it's just a different look."
Another huge problem comes from a familiar look: the savvy Fisher, his former teammate who helped Williams grow during his one season with the Jazz in 2006-07.
That takes Williams back full circle. He wants to improvise and do his effective bursts to the basket or quick 3-point shots to keep defenders on their toes, but he also knows the Jazz need to be all the more precise in their set plays to find more success against Fisher and friends.
"We have to do a better job executing," Williams re-emphasized. "They know all of our plays. Derek knows all of our plays by heart. They sit on them. They try to take them away. We've got to do a better job of screening, executing, just get good looks.
"I don't think we've executed extremely well. We haven't screened well at all," he added. "So if they know a play and we're not running it hard, it makes things more difficult."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan acknowledges the Lakers height does play a large factor in making things difficult on Williams as well as the rest of the Jazz.
"Their size inside — it's tough to get on top of the basket," Sloan replied when asked about specific challenges Williams faces against L.A. "It's a really difficult thing because they protect the basket very well. They're big and long and that makes a big difference."
But Sloan, not surprisingly, believes beating the Lakers and improving is a team thing, not a Williams thing.
"We need every single person that steps on the floor to play well," Sloan said. "That's about the only way we've ever had a chance to win, and (Williams is) certainly no different as far as that's concerned, because we need him to play well and all of the other people as well."
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