Lopez starts as Nets stop streaking Bulls
Two Bigs Lineup Propels Brooklyn to 96-82 Triumph in Chicago
Brook Lopez made an emphatic plea to retain his customary spot in the starting lineup Tuesday night in Chicago.
Not with his mouth, but with his performance on the court.
Making his first start since Dec. 5, the 7-foot center scored a season-high 29 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked a pair of shots as the Brooklyn Nets ended the Bulls’ seven-game winning streak with a 96-82 victory in front of 22,032 fans at the Windy City’s United Center.
Lopez had come off the bench the previous four games behind second-year pivot man Mason Plumlee after returning from a sore back that kept him out of the Brooklyn lineup all together for just over two weeks.
But with 20-year veteran Kevin Garnett getting a rest at power forward after playing three games in the previous four days, first-year Nets head coach Lionel Hollins simply slid Plumlee into Garnett’s spot and re-installed Lopez at center.
The results were startlingly good as Plumlee complimented Lopez along the interior with six points and eight rebounds while Joe Johnson, the steadiest Net since the franchise relocated to Brooklyn, added 20 points and an eye-popping 11 boards.
“I think we’ve been capable of putting together an effort like this throughout the year,” said Lopez, who has humbly played the good soldier in backing up Plumlee despite starting in all but the first 15 games of his rookie season during his NBA career.
“We just haven’t really sustained it the entire game and we did tonight,” he added. “We can be a lot better than this.”
Jarrett Jack, who continued starting in place of $98 million point guard Deron Williams, scored 11 points and dished out five assists as Brooklyn (15-16) improved to just 2-13 against teams with winning records this season while pulling within a game of the .500 mark.
Williams added six points, six rebounds and four assists in 20 solid minutes off the bench, helping to hold Bulls point guard Derrick Rose to a dismal 2-of-15 shooting effort.
“Tonight we committed to help each other,” Hollins noted, continuing to emphasize his team-first mentality rather than harping on whom was starting on any given night. “It’s been our game plan. We have just gotten better at doing it.”
Brooklyn held the previously red-hot Bulls to 38 percent shooting, forced 12 turnovers and outscored Chicago, 18-8, at the free throw line.
“It was the way the team played,” Lopez said. “We played together, we moved the ball well, we shared it and, most importantly, from the second quarter on we made our living defensively, getting stops and limiting, for the most part, them to one shot.”
The Nets opened the second period with a 21-4 run and never looked back, improving to 5-1 since Hollins first opted to bring Lopez and/or Williams off the bench.
As far as Hollins is concerned, whether or not Lopez returns to his starting spot again Friday night in Orlando is irrelevant to the team’s long-term goals.
“It’s not about what Brook can build on by himself. It’s about what the Brooklyn Nets can do,” Hollins said. “And I keep harping on it because that’s what I’m trying to establish — a team that plays together, plays hard, plays aggressive, that cares about, not who scores, but the fact that the Brooklyn Nets score.”
“That’s the way I look at it,” Hollins said. “I understand that [the media] want to talk about Brook and talk about Deron. But it’s a Brooklyn Nets team I’m trying to get us to be.”
Nothing But Net: After visiting the Magic on Friday night, the Nets will conclude their three-game road trip Sunday evening in Miami before opening a three-game homestand at the Barclays Center on Monday against Dallas. … Johnson’s double-double against the Bulls was his first in six years, according to the Associated Press.
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