A night removed from Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard banishing himself from a series-clinching loss, Brook Lopez did just the opposite.
After literally years of rumors linking the Nets to Howard, Lopez’s performance in the wake of Howard’s childish antics should cement the Nets center as the franchise pillar, if not an NBA force. His 28-point, 10-rebound performance against a formidable duo in Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed aided the Nets in getting a return flight to Chicago for Game Six.
The Nets outpaced the Bulls, 110-91, in front of a packed Barclays Center.
“You could see the look in his eyes tonight,” Deron Williams said. “He was just a monster today.”
In a similar situation, Howard found himself slumping down the tunnel past general manager Mitch Kupchak during a 103-82 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night. The Lakers were on the wrong end of a four-game sweep.
As his been his modus operandi, Howard forgot about his teammates and picked up two unnecessary technicals for flailing elbows and extracurricular communication with the officials. Howard selfishly removed himself from a game he might not have wanted any part of to begin with. With Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Steve Blake all injured, the Lakers faced a tall task. Some might say impossible.
As Howard exited the premises, Bryant hobbled out onto the court to a hero’s welcome. Now begin the Howard rumors?
Advice to Billy King: Don’t have those rumors ending in Brooklyn.
“It’s not like he wasn’t a good player before this year, but I really believe he’s taken it to a new level,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “And doing it in the playoffs… validates it a little more.
“He’s had an All-NBA year,” Carlesimo added. “I think he’s got a legit shot to be on one of the three All-NBA teams, and I think he’s deserving of that.”
Reggie Evans upped the ante, claiming Lopez was one of the top one or two cents in the league. Williams could note refute the forward’s claim.
“With centers, it’s hard to put one or two guys ahead of him with the way he’s played this year,” the point guard said. “He just stepped his game up a lot… I think he had a chip on his shoulder with all the Dwight rumors, and the injury last year, just all the things that have gone on.”
But Lopez’s selflessness is worth noting. When asked if he thought of himself as one of the league’s top one or two centers, like Evans did, he responded in typical Lopez fashion.
“I consider myself a player on the Brooklyn Nets,” Lopez said. “I’m in there with my team and I’m just one of the guys. I want to be known as a guy who’s going to be there for his teammates, a great teammate, and someone who’s going to be there to back them up.
“I don’t really have a social life and I like hanging out with my guys here. I didn’t want the season to end,” the center joked.
Following the All-Star break, Lopez never took umbrage with Carlesimo’s decision to stick with Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans late in games. Most All-Stars would not stand for sitting out critical moments of a game.
That’s not how Lopez reacted then, and he hasn’t changed his tune since.
Lopez, like the rest of the Nets, could have accepted the harsh reality that this just might not be their series. As Howard did. The Bulls wanted the Nets, accusing them of being “soft” and “gutless.” The preceding three games did not do a ton to dispel that notion.
Despite coming off a heartbreaking collapse in Game Four, the Nets mustered the energy and toughness to pull out a must-win.
Lopez gives the Nets something that Howard or no other center can provide: instant offense from any place on the court. Howard’s offense is centered on dunks, putbacks, and baby hooks in the lane. Lopez can provide that, as well as 20-foot jumpers. He’d probably shoot three-pointers if not for the fear of finding himself on the bench.
Lopez, a first-time All-Star, offers quite a unique skillset. He’s not the best defender, but he’s clearly the most polished offensively. Memphis’ Marc Gasol, defensive player of the year, New York’s Tyson Chandler, and Howard all offer more smothering defense. Lopez can outscore all of them, though, in a way most 7-footers cannot.
Game Five was not an aberration for Lopez by any stretch. He’s poured in 20-plus points in each game of the series.
“He’s played excellent,” Carlesimo said. “He hasn’t just played good, he’s played extremely well on both ends and he’s rebounded too… He’s played a complete game.”