NEWARK, N.J. -- High praise trumped high comedy when Shaquille O'Neal made his postgame comments tonight after the Nets' 96-92 loss to the Boston Celtics, which is notable all by itself.
The level of praise was notable, too, because Shaq made quite the comparison in assessing the talents of New Jersey center Brook Lopez.
"Reminds me of ... I'm going to go with Tim Duncan," O'Neal said. "Classy guy. You'll never hear about him getting in trouble. Great moves, great composure, and you're really not going to faze him. A couple guys will probably try to rough him up, but that's not going to faze him. Good player. Good player."
Lopez went to the free throw line 15 times (making 13) en route to a 23-point performance in just under 25 minutes, drawing three fouls against O'Neal in the first six minutes when the Nets isolated Lopez in the low post against O'Neal, and Lopez went to his up-and-under move.
New Jersey's starters outscored Boston's 28-19 in the first quarter when Lopez amassed 13 points and four rebounds against O'Neal and backup Semih Erden, but reserves Glen Davis (20 points), Nate Robinson (17 points) and Delonte West (12 points) led a second-quarter surge that put the Celtics ahead to stay.
Coach Avery Johnson said to expect a lot more of the isolation stuff from Lopez this season as the third-year center, surrounded by new shooters Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Troy Murphy and Jordan Farmar, will draw fewer double-teams and thus become more of a featured player in New Jersey's offense -- a designation Lopez often shared with Yi Jianlian much of the time last season, especially in the fourth quarters of games the 12-win Nets usually lost.
In fact, the emphasis on Lopez being a featured low-post scorer was driven home to the third-year Nets center during a practice last week when Johnson actually penalized him for passing.
As Lopez recounted the story: "One practice, I passed it out of the post, and he sent me on an up-down (a full-court sprint, 94 feet in one direction and then 94 feet in the other). That's what's on his mind, and that helped me a little."