Brooklyn counting on its ‘Inside Man’
All-Star center Lopez remains focal point of new-look Nets' offense
Despite a headline-making offseason makeover that featured the arrival of three battle-tested NBA champions from Boston, the Brooklyn Nets will likely only go as far as their longest-tenured player will take them.
All-Star center Brook Lopez drove that point home Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., as the new-look Nets opened their exhibition campaign by outlasting the Wizards in overtime, 111-106, before 9,743 fans at the Verizon Center.
Lopez, coming off the best of his five seasons since being selected 10th overall by the then-New Jersey Nets in the 2008 NBA Draft, needed only 12 minutes and 29 seconds to pour in 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
The 25-year-old Stanford alum picked up where he left off last season, when he established himself as one of the most reliable big men in the league by averaging 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and a career-high 2.1 blocks per contest.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do night in and night out,” noted starting forward Paul Pierce, who played his first game in a Brooklyn uniform after 15 seasons as a Celtic. “Establish our inside game. We feel like got an advantage there every night. [Lopez is] one of the young best centers in the league and we’re going to establish him. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Lopez looked none the worse for wear following an offseason surgical procedure to repair a bent screw in his right foot, a residue of the injury that limited him to only five games during the 2011-12 campaign — the Nets’ final season in Newark.
After Pierce opened the scoring with one of his patented jump shots, Lopez assumed control of the middle.
The 7-footer threw down an emphatic dunk off a feed from Joe Johnson, hit a turnaround hook shot on Brooklyn’s next possession and drained a pair of free throws before knocking down another hook to give the Nets an early 12-5 lead less than four minutes into the contest.
Humble by nature, Lopez refused to paint himself as the Nets’ first option on offense, especially in a starting five that will eventually feature All-Stars at every position, not to mention one of the deepest benches in the league.
“Look at our starting lineup,” Lopez gushed. “It can come from any person at any time. So we play through that person.”
“That person”, even with the additions of Pierce, Garnett and sixth man Jason Terry from Boston, will more often than not be Lopez, who is strong enough inside and more than deft enough along the exterior to provide nightmarish matchup problems for most, if not all, NBA centers.
Lopez finished off his exhibition debut by nailing a jumper and hitting two more free throws before he, Garnett, Johnson and Pierce called it a night.
With starting point guard Deron Williams continuing to nurse a right ankle injury, Lopez and Johnson were the only returning Nets starters in Tuesday’s preseason opener.
Garnett, Pierce and backup point guard Shaun Livingston, who logged nearly 19 minutes, looked to be in perfect sync with Johnson and Lopez during their short but effective stint.
That was mostly because Lopez opened the floor for the rest of them with his offensive mastery in and around the paint.
“Brook is already good. I’m going to try to add to that,” noted Garnett, whose enthusiasm for competition figures to influence Lopez during the 82-game grind of a regular season.
“Brook is a big dude. KG can rub off on him with his passion and energy,” added Terry, who sat out Tuesday as he continues to rehab a left-knee injury. “He’s going to leave a lasting impression on him.”
The Nets’ only open competition during the preseason is for the backup point guard spot.
First-year coach Jason Kidd started veteran Shaun Livingston at the point in place of Williams on Tuesday and the newly-signed ninth-year pro scored four points and dished out five assists before turning it over to second-year playmaker Tyshawn Taylor.
Kidd, who implored Taylor to be more aggressive on the offensive end during the team’s Summer League exhibition slate in Orlando, watched the Kansas alum pour in a team-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting with six assists.
Taylor, who spent nearly all of last season either on the bench or with the team’s D-League affiliate in Springfield, Mass., also committed seven turnovers in a team-high 34 minutes of playing time.
“I’m the youth of a team that has a lot of veterans,” Taylor noted during Nets’ media day last week at the Barclays Center.
Hoop du Jour: Backup C Andray Blatche, who had a turbulent seven-year stint in Washington before signing with the Nets prior to last season, scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting against his former team Tuesday night. … The Nets will continue their exhibition schedule Saturday night at the Barclays Center against the Detroit Pistons before visiting the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. G Williams is expected to sit out again against the Pistons before giving his ankle a go on Monday night in Philly. “It’s doing better. We’re just taking it slow,” Williams said of the injury. … F Andrei Kirilenko, a key addition to the Nets’ ever-growing “Bench Mob”, finished with 11 points, five boards, five assists, a blocked shot and three steals in his Net debut Tuesday. “I think that was a huge signing for us. He can fill up a stat sheet on both ends of the floor,” Williams said of his former teammate in Utah. … F Garnett admitted that it was a little strange to see Kidd on the bench rather than on the hardwood. “It was weird, I’ll be honest with you,” said Garnett. “Seeing him in his little tight suit drawing up plays. It was good.”
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