By John Torenli
Brook Lopez has been the forgotten man during the Brooklyn-bound Nets’ final season in New Jersey, except, of course, when his name is mentioned as the key figure in any potential deal for Orlando center Dwight Howard.
After missing the first two months of the lockout-shortened campaign with a broken foot, the 7-foot pivot man saw limited action in his first two games back before putting on a show in Dallas Tuesday night.
Lopez scored a whopping 38 points — one shy of his career high — and grabbed six rebounds in 36 spectacular minutes as the suddenly rejuvenated Nets edged the defending world champions, 93-92.
While Howard, a free agent this coming summer, has reportedly shown an interest in being dealt to either the Nets, Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers prior to the March 15 trade deadline, Lopez has been waiting patiently to dust off his formidable game.
The Nets’ first-round (10th overall) pick out of Stanford in 2008 finally got his chance and helped his teammates to their third win in five games since an eight-game losing streak.
“The guys got the ball to me in spots where I could lay it up and score,” Lopez said humbly.
Lopez is expected to play again tonight in Boston as the Nets try to climb out of the Atlantic Division cellar and back into playoff contention.
Even if he’s ultimately used simply to lure Howard from Orlando, Nets coach Avery Johnson is just happy to have Lopez back.
“We kind of took the handcuffs off him. We weren’t putting him on a minute restriction,” noted Johnson, who has shown great resilience this season in the face of constant trade rumors regarding his players and an injury-plagued roster. “He got a pretty good rest over the [All-Star] break, and we kept feeding him.”
Point guard Deron Williams, acknowledged as the Nets’ top recruiter of Howard, must also decide by summer if he is going to be a part of the franchise’s move to the Barclays Center.
The acquisition of Howard would doubtlessly motivate Williams to stay, but the re-emergence of Lopez also had the playmaker gushing following the win over Dallas.
“Brook was a monster tonight. He carried us from the start. With him back, we’re a different team,” Williams told the AP after putting up 12 points and dishing out 12 assists. “I just wasn’t feeling it and Brook was.”
Regardless of whether he arrives in Downtown Brooklyn with the Nets this coming November or not, Lopez figures to be one of the key ingredients to the franchise’s future success.
Will he fill that role as a dominating center or simply as trade bait for Howard?
Either way, Lopez is finally healthy and back in the center of it all.