You get the feeling that if Lopez hadn’t sprained his right foot and missed seven games, Avery Johnson would still be coaching the Nets and owner Mikhail Prokhorov would still be on vacation heli-skiing in Canada.
The 24-year-old posted his third straight double-double Saturday night, amassing a season-high 35 points and a season-high-tying 11 rebounds in his team’s 103-100 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center. Over that three-game span, Lopez is averaging 27.3 points and 10.7 rebounds.
“He hasn’t been right. He’s getting better as we go along,” said Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who improved to 2-0 since taking over for Johnson. “He gave us some good games since he’s been back, but if you look at the way he played tonight and the way he played for a good chunk of November, prior to the injury, he wasn’t the same guy. He was still helping us. It was still very positive him being on the floor, but he wasn’t doing quite as much, moving quite as well.”
Lopez was Brooklyn’s best player in November, averaging 18.5 points on 53.4 percent shooting in 14 games (10-4), but the Nets (16-14) went 2-5 without him in the lineup. And he wasn’t the same player upon his return.
In his first five games back, Lopez averaged just 14.6 points on 42.3 percent shooting. Johnson lost his job Thursday, the day after Lopez finally got it together in Milwaukee, notching 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. He had 26, 11 and 3 in Friday night’s victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.
He played even better Saturday night.
“Brook was a monster and definitely carried us in that fourth quarter,” point guard Deron Williams said of Lopez, who had 11 points in the final period, including eight straight down the stretch with the Nets in danger of blowing another double-digit lead. “I think he’s getting his confidence back, because we started playing bad when he went out with the injury. Now you’re seeing him get back to where he was before the injury. We definitely had to keep feeding him because he had an advantage in the post.”
Lopez missed his first shot and made his next nine en route to a 21-point first half. He finished 13-for-20 from the field and 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Many of Lopez’s looks came around the rim, where he took it to undersized Cavaliers backup center Tyler Zeller, who was filling in for the injured Anderson Varejao.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive and attack the rim,” Lopez said. “It was just something P.J.’s really been harping on me: Don’t throw him the ball if he’s a certain distance out. And they’re doing it. They’re listening to him.”
Added D-Will: “We’ve been on him about posting up closer to the basket. P.J.’s told us not to give him the ball if he’s [posting up] outside of 12 feet. And he’s took that as a challenge, and you see him getting deeper position, and he’s just being more aggressive going to the basket.”
So, Brook, about that foot ...
“I don’t know if it has to do with the foot,” he said. “It’s more a mindset than anything.”