Matchup to watch:
Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Deron Williams

Chris Paul & Deron Williams go way back. (AP)

For Game 3 of the Circus Trip, The Brooklyn Nets take on the Los Angeles Clippers for the second and final time this season, and even though it’s a 10:30 P.M. EST start (damnit, West Coast), there’s a lot of reasons to stay up to watch this one. Namely, since these two teams likely won’t meet in the NBA Finals (sorry, guys), it’s our last chance of the season to watch my favorite point guard matchup: the Nets’ Deron Williams and the Clippers’ Chris Paul.

Williams & Paul have been linked for some time now — Williams was the third overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz, and Paul was selected one pick later at fourth by the New Orleans Hornets.

Their careers intertwined often early on, and the two were often cited as the two best point guards in the game. Paul always held a slight edge for his ridiculous scoring efficiency and passing ability: he led the league in back-to-back seasons in assist percentage, and at 22 led the New Orleans Hornets to a 56-26 record, second in the Eastern Conference. Williams was no slouch: in that same year, he led the Jazz to a 54-28 record. Both teams lost in the second round of the playoffs.

The two diverged right about the time the Nets acquired Williams from the Jazz. While Paul continued to rack up excellent season after excellent season even after a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, Williams began to struggle — and struggle a lot — in his new situation. His field goal percentage, 47% in his five full seasons in Utah, dipped to under 40% in his time in New Jersey. The Nets continued to lose even with Williams running the show. On top of that, other point guards emerged: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, and now Kyrie Irving challenged for the best PG title, and Williams fell out of the conversation.

Even when Williams struggled, the head-to-head matchups between Paul and Williams were still my favorite in the league. Now that he seems back in elite form, they should be even better. Here’s some factoids about Williams & Paul when they face off against each other:

  • In 18 games, Williams’s team has gone 14-4 against Chris Paul’s team. Only two of those games have come with the Nets — both wins for Williams.

  • Shooting splits: Williams has shot 51.4% from the field, 39.3% from three, and 74.6% from the line against Paul. Paul has shot 43.1% from the field, 29.5% from three, and 87.2% from the line against Williams.

  • Paul averages more rebounds (3.7 to 3.2), assists (9.1 to 8.4), and steals (2.4 to 1.2) than Williams. Williams averages more points (16.6 to 15.7).

  • In their matchup earlier this season, Paul finished with 14 points (5-11 shooting), 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. Williams finished with 11 points (3-10 shooting), 8 assists, and 3 rebounds. The Nets won 86-76.

Some expectations:

  • Williams pay try to post Paul early and try to create shots for himself and others out of that look. Since Lopez, Johnson, and to some degree Wallace can space the floor, and Evans can roam on the opposite weak side looking for rebounds, Williams should be able to either back him deep enough to get a good look or draw a double-team to get someone an open look. Paul’s quick hands may force a few turnovers if Williams tries to post too often, though.

  • Even if he does try to create out of the post often, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams took around eight three-pointers tonight. He’s shot well against Paul historically and has taken at least five in each of their last four matchups.

  • Though Williams has spent much more time dribble-driving since the All-Star break, Paul is one of the few guards that’s both quick enough to stick with him, and he’s smart enough to lead Williams into Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Here’s what happened the last time Williams tried to go at Griffin:

    So he might stay out of the paint tonight. That said, Williams still hasn’t dunked this season, and if machismo dictates he tries it again on anyone, it’d be the Clippers.