By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After missing all but five games last season due to a series of foot injuries and hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors involving Dwight Howard for the better part of the past two years, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez has become quite proficient at blocking out distractions and zeroing in on the task at hand.
"I'm just focused on winning tonight's game," Lopez said before leading the Nets to a wire-to-wire 91-83 victory in Minnesota on Wednesday. "[The trade rumors have] been going on for a few years now. Our team is doing a good job of ignoring them. It's not too frustrating. Like I said a million times, I don't really pay attention to this stuff."
Lopez, who scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a pair of shots against the short-handed Timberwolves, has emerged as the key component in the Nets' resurgence as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. At 26-16, Brooklyn moved within one-half game of Atlantic Division-leading New York, pending the outcome of Thursday night's Knicks-Celtics game in Boston, and is just 2 1/2 lengths behind defending NBA champion Miami for the East's best record.
Irregardless of point guard Deron Williams' inspired play since P.J. Carlesimo replaced Avery Johnson as head coach in late December, Joe Johnson's clutch shooting in late-game situations, Reggie Evans' relentless work along the boards and Andray Blatche's contributions off the bench, it has been Lopez at the forefront of the Nets' rebound from a dismal December.
The 7-footer from Stanford, who would rather read the works of Mark Twain or a comic book than indulge in the seemingly never-ending speculation regarding his status on the transaction wire, ranks first on the Nets in scoring at 18.6 points per game. He also grabs 7.4 board per night, second only to Evans' 8.9, and is blocking just over two shots per contest.
Those number figure to earn Lopez All-Star status Thursday night, when the NBA reveals its reserves for the Eastern Conference unit. But again, Lopez isn't wasting his time focusing on things that remain out of his control, either on or off the hardwood.
"I didn't know the announcement was [Thursday]." Lopez revealed prior to making 10 of 16 shots against the T-Wolves as the Nets won their third in a row and 12th in 14 games since Carlesimo took the helm. 'You know I never watch any of that stuff. I'll probably be sitting in my room with the lights turned off, doing nothing."
While Lopez remained humble regarding his pending All-Star status, Williams spoke up for his pivotman, who remains the Nets' longest-tenured player in his fifth season with Brooklyn.
"I'll be really surprised if he's not an All-Star. He's played probably the most consistent throughout the season," Willams noted. "I think, just in general, he came in [to this season] with a chip on his shoulder, being hurt last year and being involved in trade rumors. Hopefully people will take notice."
The Nets went 2-5 when Lopez went down with a mild foot sprain in December. They've posted an NBA-best 10-1 mark in January behind his 19,2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this month.
Though the backcourt tandem of Williams and Johnson reaped the lion's share of attention entering Brooklyn's historic first season on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, Lopez is the main reason the Nets are challenging the Knicks for New York basketball supremacy midway through the 82-game grind of an NBA season.
“He’s playing as well as any center in the league,” gushed Carlesimo. “I don’t know another center that is playing better than him. There are a couple others that are playing really well too, but I don’t think there is anybody playing better than him. He’s done a heck of a job.”
Despite his ongoing success this season, Lopez was once again mentioned in a trade rumor for the enigmatic Howard this week as the Lakers center continues to struggle in his new Tinseltown digs after forcing his way out of Orlando. But the Nets, to a man, believe that their center is unmovable, both in the paint and on the trade-rumor circuit.
“We’re happy with Brook,” Williams insisted. “Brook is our center. He’s having an All-Star year. I don’t see Brook going anywhere.”
Except maybe next month's All-Star Game in Houston.
Brooklyn boxer Yuri Foreman, making his return to the ring after nearly two years, scored a unanimous decision over Brandon Baue in a six-round middleweight bout at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill in Manhattan on Wednesday night.
Foreman, who suffered losses in each of his previous two bouts, including a ninth-round stoppage against Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium in 2010, controlled the tempo throughout the fight, showing no ill effects from the knee innjury that forced him to retire early against Cotto.
The Belarus native improved to 29-2 overall and is eager to resume his career after the extended hiatus under the promotional umbrella of DiBella Entertainment.
Though he hasn't yet been added to the Feb. 9 fight card at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, sponsored by Golden Boy Promotions, the former WBA super welterweight champion, who along with fellow orthodox Jewish fighter Dmitriy Salita is a local fan favorite, figures to appear at the state-of-the-art arena in future events.
One boxer who will make his return to the Barclays Center next month is Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin, who will make his first title defense as WBO middleweight champion on the undercard of the Danny "Swift" Garcia-Zab "Brooklyn Flash" Judah bout.
The Brooklyn resident, who hails from the Bronx, is eager to take on Fernando Guerrero after taking the crown from Hassan D'Nam in the original Barclays boxing card back in October.
"I'm working even harder now to get to the next level [of] superstar," Quillin said. "The belt has put a big, red X on my back, but I believe the only person who can defeat me is me. So, I'm preparing the right way and will be ready."
Hoop du Jour: Carlesimo isn't limiting his All-Star vote to Lopez. "I think [Williams, Johnson and Lopez] are all deserving," the Nets coach said when asked if his center would be in Houston next month representing the East All-Stars. ... The Nets had lost eight in a row in Minnesota before Wednesday night's victory. ... G C.J. Watson led the Nets' "Bench Mob" with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting against the T-Wolves. ... Lopez remains the only player in the league averaging at least 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game this season, according to the Associated Press. ... The Nets will visit Memphis on Friday and Houston on Saturday before hosting Orlando at Barclays Center on Monday. Next Wednesday, Brooklyn will welcome LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the defending NBA champion Miami Heat to Downtown. The Nets dropped their first two meetings with the Heat in South Beach, Fla., earlier this season.