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Williams' week with Stockton paying off

OAKLAND, Calif. — If there was any sense Wednesday night that the presence of John Stockton was lurking in the Delta Center, perhaps it was with just cause.

Because as rookie point guard Deron Williams led the Jazz to a 93-82 season-opening win over the Dallas Mavericks, he was doing so with a week's worth of wisdom from the master.

Williams, the No. 3 overall selection in last June's NBA Draft, made the revelation this week in a personal season-long blog he is writing for a popular basketball Web site called RealGM.com.

"Before training camp started, I spent a week with John Stockton at his home in Washington," Williams blogged before Wednesday's opener. "We talked about playing in the NBA, the types of things to expect, how to prepare for games, foes and the season. We even worked out together."

With longtime Jazz point Stockton watching in spirit, then, Williams had to have made the NBA's all-time steals and assists leader proud.

He rallied Utah from four points down in the fourth quarter, finishing with 18 points while playing 14 of his 26 off-the-bench minutes at the end.

That and Mehmet Okur's game-high 27 points helped ensure not only that the Jazz won, but also that they did so with a certain sense of confidence they simply did not exude throughout a miserable 26-56 season in 2004-05.

On a personal level, Williams' effort probably came as no great shock to himself. Just earlier in the week, in fact, he practically foreshadowed the showing.

"I always feel comfortable at the end of games," Williams said last Monday. "That's when I tend to show up a lot."

And show up he did, looking a lot like a seasoned pro despite the fact he was merely making his NBA debut — against, as it happened, his longtime favorite team, the Texan's very own hometown Dallas Mavs.

"I've been in those types of positions before," the 21-year-old Williams said afterward. "I've taken over (late in a game) before, and I feel comfortable playing in those moments.

"It was fun," he added, "a dream come true for me to be playing on an NBA floor."

Williams wasn't the only one having a good time.

From a team perspective, coach Jerry Sloan reveled in a watching the Jazz do what they did not most of last season.

"We started off well last year, and then things kind of fell apart and we didn't fight back," he said. "It was too much hard work to try to fight back, because we dug a hole for ourselves.

"(Wednesday) night we got ourselves in a hole — and we fought back."

Last year, Sloan said as the Jazz prepared Thursday morning for tonight's road opener at Golden State, "I don't think they would have worked that hard.

"They had confidence in what they were doing — but they didn't have confidence in everybody else. They really were selfish. They were a very selfish team last year to finish out the season."

Not so for the start of this season.

"You've got to compete — and I thought we competed pretty well to do it to get the win. We worked pretty hard," Sloan said. "We got some loose balls, went after the ball, blocked some shots."

In other words, the Jazz played the same sort of basketball they did during many of the 19 seasons in which retired-in-2003 Stockton was around.

"We shared the ball (Wednesday) night," forward Matt Harpring said. "The ball was moving, and we were executing, as opposed to just trying to go one-on-one."

"I think what we do is just 'catch it' in the fourth quarter — we just (caught) a good rhythm," forward Andrei Kirilenko added, "and everybody was believing in each other."

And it wasn't just that strong finish that had everyone with the Jazz so giddy.

With Keith McLeod starting at the point over Williams, Utah jumped to an early 19-11 lead — including one run with scoring on eight of nine possessions.

"We got off to a terrific start, the way we executed and got the ball where it was supposed to go and did the right things," Sloan said. "That was exciting."

Perhaps not as exciting, though, as it was for Williams to spend some quality time with Stockton.

"Don't be fooled by his size, he is still strong enough to play. He's in great shape," Williams blogged. "I know that not many players get the opportunity to spend time with the greatest player at their position and I really appreciated the opportunity."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com