No pain, all gain for returning Brook Lopez
Center Leads Nets to Easy Exhibition Win over Maccabi Tel Aviv
Giddiness is usually reserved for teenage girls at Justin Bieber concerts.
But Nets center Brook Lopez confessed that he was feeling just that – a state of excitable frivolity – when he finally made his long-awaited return to the Barclays Center’s herringbone-designed hardwood Tuesday night as Brooklyn cruised to a 114-94 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in its exhibition opener.
”It was great to be back on the floor,” Lopez said after scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in just under 23 minutes, his first game action since going down with a season-ending right-foot injury last December.
”I felt so giddy when we first got on the floor, standing on the court, getting shots up,” the 7-foot pivot man gushed after receiving a hearty welcome home from the announced crowd of 15,915. “To be back out with the guys was a fantastic feeling.”
Lopez, who appears fully recovered from surgery on his injured foot and a left-ankle procedure, was in midseason form, albeit against an overmatched opponent. He also reported no significant soreness or pain following the game.
“They had no answer for him,” noted new Nets coach Lionel Hollins following his preseason Brooklyn debut.
Neither will most NBA teams if Lopez is, in fact, finally healthy and ready to reassume his post as one of the few true centers in the game.
In the Nets’ inaugural campaign here in Downtown Brooklyn, Lopez earned his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game, averaging 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots over 74 contests.
He was putting up a career-best 20.7 points per night last season before going down for the count with the latest in a series of foot and ankle injuries that have limited the Stanford alum to 96 games over the past three campaigns.
This, after playing all 82 contests in each of his first three seasons with the Nets.
So it was easy to understand Lopez’s giddiness Tuesday night after he had to sit and watch from the bench as the Nets rallied to reach the playoffs without him, squeaked by Toronto in the opening round and lost a tough series to eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami.
But that was then, and this is now.
With the loss of three key players from last year’s squad – Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche – the Nets need Lopez for the long haul this coming season.
And they need him to be every bit as good as he was when he got hurt last year.
Also on the mend from a pair of offseason ankle surgeries, point guard Deron Williams scored 17 points and handed out seven assists in 29 minutes Tuesday. And more importantly, also reported that he was feeling pain-free following the blowout win.
The strong performances and healthy status reports give Hollins and his team some hope that the Nets’ Mr. Inside (Lopez) and Mr. Outside (Williams) will be ready to give the opposition fits during the 82-game grind of the regular season.
”They are an integral part of our team and having them both back and both healthy and playing at the highest level, that’s the key for us to succeed,” said Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko after scoring 13 points in his bid to take Pierce’s old spot in the starting five.
Joe Johnson scored 14 points and Mirza Teletovic added 13 for Brooklyn, which also got six points and five boards from 20-year veteran Kevin Garnett, who is likely to begin the season as the Nets’ starting power forward.
This, That and the Other Thing: The Nets didn’t have much time to revel in their preseason-opening victory Tuesday night as the team traveled en masse to China Wednesday. The Nets will host a series of business and community events there, in addition to playing two preseason games against the Sacramento Kings as part of NBA Global Games 2014. The events will be held in Shanghai and Beijing and cater to various audiences, including foreign business leaders and children from the community. “The Brooklyn Nets brand resonates globally and playing in China gives us a significant opportunity to expand our international appeal,” said Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark. “In addition to preparing our players for the upcoming season, we are planning to utilize this trip to meet Chinese business leaders, engage the local community, and to build a lasting presence.” … Nets GM Billy King shot down recent rumors and reports that billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov was in the process of selling off a stake in the team to the Guggenheim Group. “He’s not selling,” King told the Associated Press Tuesday night.
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