Brook Lopez blocks a shot by Carmelo Anthony - Bruce Bennett
The Brooklyn Nets are 1-4 without starting center Brook Lopez. Somewhat surprisingly it is on the defensive end of the floor where the Nets seem to miss him most.
Brook Lopez practiced on Monday for the first time since spraining his right foot on November 28 in Boston and is listed as a game-time decision for the Brooklyn Nets’ critical game against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. His status does come with words of caution, which has been common since the man in the middle has been out of action. Head coach Avery Johnson told reporters "The chances he is going to play tomorrow are not very high," so whether Lopez is actually on the court will be determined by his "recovery" Tuesday morning.
The Nets are crossing their fingers, because they need Lopez back and not a moment too soon. The Brooklynites are 1-4 in the games Lopez (18.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.5 blocks per game) has missed, bottoming out with a discouraging 97-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. With owner Mikhail Prokhorov watching his $330 million-plus team from his luxury box, the Nets scored a season-low 31 first-half points on 27.7 percent shooting and trailed by as many as 29 before mounting a fourth-quarter rally.
It’s already a crisis in Kings County. Moral victories from the New Jersey Nets were acceptable, not a team with expectations almost as high as Prokhorov’s bank account. Missing Lopez in the paint, the Nets gave up an average of 109.3 points a game in three previous defeats. Andray Blatche has filled in capably, but he’s far from the defensive force that Lopez is and his presence in the starting five has weakened the bench.
If Lopez is out again on Tuesday, that may be a recipe for disaster against the 15-5 Knicks and their relentless big man, Tyson Chandler.
"I hope (we’re not playing like we’re waiting for Lopez)," said Deron Williams. "I don’t want to think like that. We definitely want him back but we don’t want to think you can’t win without him. That’s never how you should come into the game, thinking because you don’t have one or two players you don’t have a chance to win."
After the Knicks on Tuesday, the Nets play two bottom feeders in the Toronto Raptors on the road and Detroit Pistons back in Brooklyn before traveling to Chicago to face the Bulls. Playing four games in five nights isn’t ideal for a slumping team, which adds even more importance to not allow the Knicks to extend the Nets’ losing streak to a season-high five.
"At the beginning of the season, we talked about not losing two games in a row," Williams said. "We gotta get back to that. If we drop one, we have to be mentally and physically ready to get back and win the next one. We’ve got our backs against the wall right now, and we’ve got to fight our way out of it."
When the Nets were 11-4, they were powered by defense, holding opponents to 90.4 points per game. During their current slide it’s 97.5 and that’s forced Johnson to make changes, including the benching of Kris Humphries for Reggie Evans on Sunday.
"Our problem is defense," Johnson said. "We are not the same team defensively. Everything is on the table right now in terms of trying to figure out how to get our team out of this defensive funk.