NEW YORK -- For a "crappy center," Brook Lopez happens to be quite good.
Hours after his twin brother jokingly called him just that, Brook dominated Robin on Monday night, outscoring him 32-8, and the Brooklyn Nets came away with a 106-96 victory over the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers in a makeup game at Barclays Center.
The Nets (36-41) have won 11 of their past 14 and moved a game ahead of the idle Boston Celtics (35-42) for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining. Brooklyn leads the Indiana Pacers (34-43) and Miami Heat (34-43) by a full two games in the standings now.
The Nets had to win this game against the Blazers, who traveled 3,000 miles to Brooklyn without key frontcourt contributors LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Kaman and Nicolas Batum -- and they did. The two teams were supposed to play on Jan. 26, but some bad weather forced them to postpone.
The Nets were bad then. They had lost 10 of 12. They're not bad anymore. Quite good, in fact.
Brooklyn's starters combined for zero turnovers -- the first time that's happened in franchise history (the NBA began tracking turnovers in 1977-78).
They pulled away in the second quarter, using a 32-13 advantage to take a 54-38 lead into the half. It was surprising considering they'd been outscored by 85 in the second quarter since the All-Star break. The Nets led by as many as 22 then were able to hang on late. Damian Lillard (36 points) was fantastic, but most of his supporting cast was back in Portland, Oregon.
Brook had just picked up his second straight Eastern Conference player of the week award, which prompted Robin to sarcastically tell reporters, "I mean, it's amazing how far a team can go with a crappy center. I guess he fooled the NBA for a couple weeks."
Robin, however, was in a less-than-joking mood after it was over.
"Yeah, [Brook] was good," he said.
Brook was in much better spirits.
"Well, you know it might have been a fluke," he said. "But I was just out there trying to play basketball, and when I saw him go in for that dunk, I knew I had to hack him a little bit. Just trying to protect our guys even though they're not here -- [former mascots] the BrooklyKnight and Sly and Mini Sly. Yeah, I miss those guys. I wouldn't mind having them back around. I had to protect my guys. You know, this is our home court."
Brook is 4-5 all time against Robin, but he has posted better individual numbers.
Robin has emerged as a star role player for the Blazers, while Brook has emerged as, well, a star.
In his past 11 games, Brook has scored 30 or more points six times. Now healthy and off the trading block, he is playing the best basketball of his career, forming a lethal pick-and-roll tandem with a rejuvenated and also healthy Deron Williams (24 points, 10 assists, six rebounds). Thaddeus Young continued his tear as well, adding 20 points.
"Yeah, he's a stubborn guy," Robin said of Brook. "No matter what people say about him, no matter what happens, he's just gonna stick with what he knows how to do and that's what he's been doing. He's always been capable like that. He's been injured, and he just knows how to stick with it."
Added Brook: "I feel I'm in a lot better shape. I'm feeling well, like you said, and just moving great, and my confidence is up as well."
Brook and Robin do not talk to each other while they are playing.
"We don't say a word to each other on the court, honestly," Brook said. "We have a Facebook chat with our guys from high school and Stanford. We talk to the other guys on the group chat but not really to each other that much. But we talk on that chat every day. Kind of."
The last time they spoke was when they went to McDonald's to grab a bite to eat at 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning. They both got the usual. Robin ordered a Big Mac, hold the pickles and onions, large fries and a cheeseburger, while Brook got two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.
Asked who paid, Brook responded, "I did, of course. [Robin] made me drive, too."
They will eventually have to talk to each other again. After all, Robin has to make good on their pregame bet.
"We'll leave it up to him to decide [what I get]," Brook said. "I'll be humble. He can decide."