‘Next Man Up’ working for Nets
Plumlee Continues Surge as Brooklyn Wins Second Straight
Brook Lopez isn’t quite in Wally Pipp or Drew Bledsoe territory just yet.
But if Mason Plumlee continues to dominate from the center position, the Brooklyn Nets’ former All-Star pivot man could find himself on the outside looking in at his starting spot for the foreseeable future.
Or maybe even out of Brooklyn all together.
Plumlee resumed his recent surge with 19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and a pair of steals Tuesday night as the Nets won their second straight at Downtown’s Barclays Center, 102-96, over the visiting Denver Nuggets before a crowd of 17,080.
Of course, Pipp was the Yankees’ first baseman before a guy named Lou Gehrig filled in for him one day and never looked back, becoming arguably the greatest Bronx Bomber of them all.
Bledsoe was the Patriots’ quarterback before taking a shot to the chest from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. A tall scrawny kid named Tom Brady took the helm and almost immediately steered the franchise to its first three Super Bowl titles.
No one can yet pretend that Plumlee is on the same Hall of Fame path as Gehrig and Brady, but he is certainly the most energetic and exciting player on an otherwise old and somewhat slow Nets team.
His emergence could spell doom for Lopez in many ways, including less playing time and/or a trade to another franchise.
Lopez, who missed the previous seven contests due to a lower back strain, did make his much-anticipated return Tuesday night, albeit in a reserve role. The 7-footer from Stanford had six points on 3-of-5 shooting with four rebounds in just over eight minutes of playing time.
“It was nothing. It felt good out there,” Lopez said after coming off the bench for the first time since the first 15 games of his rookie season.
“I’m going to leave it to them, but I definitely felt good out there and felt like I could go longer. [Not starting] did feel different. My routine was different and everything, but that was the situation. I didn’t too much out there.”
Nets first-year head coach Lionel Hollins appears perfectly willing to let Plumlee continue to start at center while Lopez works his way back into game shape, although the latter was clearly eager to do more than sit on the bench for the better part 42 minutes.
While Lopez watched, Plumlee sparked the Nets to a game-ending 24-11 run that assured them a Merry Christmas as Brooklyn will not return to the hardwood until Friday afternoon in Boston.
The second-year man from Duke is averaging 18.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over his last seven games.
Lopez, who started every game during his first three seasons with the Nets but has missed the majority of two of the last three campaigns due to a series of foot injuries, has taken notice.
“Mason’s been fantastic. Like I said yesterday, we have lots of bigs who can do different things,” Lopez noted before being asked if he was fine with coming off the bench behind the younger, more athletic center.
“Whatever the situation is I’m going to do it,” said Lopez. “I’m a coach-able guy. I’m not a selfish guy.”
Plumlee doesn’t seem the least bit interested in ceding his current post, especially after spending the summer competing alongside the NBA’s best at the World Championships in Spain, where he scored a gold medal as a virtual walk-on to Team USA.
“I don’t think anybody ever got to the NBA by saying he didn’t want to start,” Plumlee said. “Getting some wins and putting up numbers gives you confidence, but I think our whole team is playing more confidently.”
Hollins, who had been accused of brow-beating Lopez at times this season, actually forgot his former starting center’s name during his post-game press conference before locating it on the final box score.
He certainly wasn’t forgetful when it came time to discuss Plumlee, however.
“Mason made a conscious decision to go and just play and not worry about what I say, if I yell at him, if I take him out of the game – just go play,” Hollins revealed after his team improved to 12-15. “His confidence is rising. He’s doing some stuff that I haven’t seen Mason do since I’ve been here and it’s good to see.”
“I am listening to what [Coach Hollins] says,” Plumlee added. “You take the criticism and the encouragement all the same and you use it to your advantage.”
Plumlee wasn’t the only fill-in who filled it up Tuesday night.
Point guard Jarrett Jack, subbing for the injured Deron Williams (calf) for the second straight contest, scored 17 points and dished out eight assists as the Nets improved to 11-2 this season against teams with non-winning records.
“It has to be next man up,” Hollins said, pointing to the contributions of both Plumlee and Jack in the absence of the two players the foundation of this franchise was built on when the Nets arrived in Brooklyn.
Also not to be forgotten was the continued contribution of Joe Johnson, who led the Nets with 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting.
But even Johnson, one of the most consistent players Brooklyn has had since its relocation here two winters ago, was gushing afterward about the performance of his team’s new starting center.
“Mason’s been great, man,” Johnson said. “I think he’s been doing a tremendous job filling in for the absence of Brook.”
Filling in or taking over?
That will be a question only Plumlee can answer with his strong play at center and Lopez can respond to with his ability to reassume the post many thought would be his for as long as he played in Brooklyn.
If history has shown us anything, especially in the realm of sports, it’s that anyone can be replaced.
Next man up!
Nothing But Net: The Nets scored a season-high 60 points in the paint against the Nuggets. … Rookie Sergey Karasev matched his career-high with 12 points and also grabbed five boards and handed out three assists in 32 minutes. … Lopez had made 351 consecutive starts when healthy before coming off the bench Tuesday. … Brooklyn forced 18 Denver turnovers while committing nine.
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