By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- While they've dropped three straight, Deron Williams thinks he and the New Jersey Nets are heading in the right direction.
The star guard and the Nets visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
After opening the season with an 90-84 win over Washington on Monday, New Jersey (1-3) has dropped three in a row, including a 105-98 defeat at Atlanta on Friday. The Nets have averaged 84.0 points and shot 38.9 percent this season, including 29.9 percent from 3-point range.
Those struggles aren't totally unexpected. New Jersey is playing without center Brook Lopez, last season's leading scorer with 20.4 points per game. He's expected to miss a month with a stress fracture in his foot.
That puts more pressure on Williams to lead a young Nets squad. After shooting 28.9 percent and averaging 14.3 points in New Jersey's first three games, Williams finished with 23 points against the Hawks, including 19 in the second half, while shooting 9 for 18.
"I'm not getting much out of pick-and-rolls because teams are just sitting on me," said Williams, who averaged 20.1 points playing for Utah and the Nets last season. "I think `I-sos' are going to be more effective until we figure out the pick-and-roll game. I was able to get something going and turn it around and hopefully get my confidence going."
He wasn't the only one to gain confidence in the loss. Rookie MarShon Brooks scored a season-high 21 points Friday and is averaging 15.3, while Mehmet Okur had a season-high 15 in New Jersey's second loss to Atlanta in the young season.
Cleveland (1-2) is also trying to build off a good performance following its 98-91 overtime loss at Indiana. Rookie Kyrie Irving had his best game, finishing with 20 points, but the 19-year-old missed a layup that would have won the game at the end of regulation.
Irving was 8 of 19 from the field, but the rest of the Cavaliers shot 37.7 percent. Irving had 20 points in the first two games combined.
"Irving is a heck of a player," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Not `going to be,' but right now."
Irving played just 11 games in his only season at Duke, missing more than three months due to a foot injury that sidelined him until the NCAA tournament. Despite the limited playing time, Cleveland saw enough to envision him as a franchise player and worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and he's averaged 13.3 points and 6.0 assists thus far.
Like New Jersey, Cleveland has shown signs of rust. Its top three scorers in Irving, Antawn Jamison and Ramon Sessions are shooting a combined 38.2 percent. Meanwhile, the team's most consistent player, Anderson Varejao, is dealing with a sore back and questionable for Sunday. He's averaging 12.7 points and 10.0 rebounds.
The Cavs play their next two at home before embarking on a seven-game road trip. They are looking to gain some confidence before the challenging stretch.
"It would be big (to come away with two wins)," said coach Byron Scott, who guided the Nets to back-to-back NBA finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. "We've played two solid games, but this is going to be a tough game for us. Hopefully our guys come hungry and mad."
The Nets won three of four against the Cavaliers last season. All four games were decided by eight or fewer points.
Updated December 31, 2011