10:05 am Feb. 27, 2013
The greatest self-inflicted problem in the N.B.A. this season has come to an end: Brook Lopez is again playing the fourth quarter for the Brooklyn Nets.
But even in Tuesday night's 101-97 win over the New Orleans Hornets, caoch P.J. Carlesimo appeared to play Lopez only reluctantly, and no one, including the people who cover the team closest, can figure out why.
Let's rewind briefly. The Nets had a single all-star representative: Brook Lopez, who is playing as well as any center in the league this season. Yet in the team's first game back, a 113-111 overtime win over the Bucks, Lopez didn't play in the fourth quarter, and was, perhaps relatedly, rusty when called upon in overtime.
The following night, Lopez again didn't play in the fourth, despite a respectable first three quarters. He played less than half the fourth quarter against Houston in a loss to the Rockets, not at all in the fourth in a loss to Memphis.
Lopez wasn't suffering from any injuries, but the somewhat fragile center, who'd only dominated this season once he'd managed to gain confidence, seemed more tentative when he was on the court. Considering that Deron Williams is battling through a multitude of injuries, Joe Johnson is currently sidelined with an injury, and Lopez has been one of the most efficient scorers on any team, this was an odd development.
Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo offered little reason for his change, but said Monday: "I created the situation, and it’s not a good situation. I worry about it that I need to address it, and I worry about it that I need to watch what I do going forward."
Lopez, for his part, did no complaining whatsoever. Carlesimo recognized the error. Lopez was ready to play, and managed a terrific game through three quarters, making seven of eleven shots, adding six rebounds, four blocked shots and even five assists. The Nets led 73-65, Lopez had played just 27 minutes. Johnson was out, and Williams hadn't made a shot since getting his wrist stepped on earlier in the game, but Lopez, surely, would lead the way. Even the best interior defender on the Hornets, Anthony Davis, had left the game with an arm injury, leaving Lopez even freer to wreak havoc.
Nope. Lopez began the fourth on the bench. Accordingly, the Nets' offense stalled, and the Hornets worked their way back into a game they had no business winning. After a three by Keith Bogans early in the fourth padded the Nets' lead to 11, the Hornets went on a 15-8 run to make it an 84-80 game with 5:09 left, repeatedly getting into the lane with the shot blocker, Lopez, on the bench.
Finally, Lopez entered, along with, oddly, Mirza Teletovic for the first time all night. Lopez scored on his first possession, scored again, in fact, scored the Nets' next six points, while the Hornets settled for jump shots. At that point, a revitalized Williams took over, scoring the final 11 points for the Nets. But this game never had to be that close. Williams played more than 37 minutes as a result.
"I’ve kept my confidence through this entire week," Lopez said following the game. "It’s definitely good to get a win like this, but I try not to put too much stock into one game. ... It is a marathon and not a sprint."
If the Nets are going to win enough games in this marathon, they'll need to be more reliant on Lopez. At the very least, he needs to be out on the floor for most of the fourth quarter in games still to be decided. If that seems too obvious to state, well, it still isn't happening, even after the coach of the team admitted it needed to happen.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Mark Jackson gets to coach at Madison Square Garden against his former team when the Warriors play the Knicks Wednesday night.
He may not have a bunch of his players, though, thanks to this brawl.
Zack Wheeler makes his second spring appearance on Wednesday.
Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda both return to the lineup Wednesday as well, after missing time with a sore quad and a broken swing, respectively.
Jenrry Mejia, a likely placeholder for Wheeler, was hit hard on Tuesday.
Johnny Damon isn't coming back to help out in left field, Brian Cashman said.
M.L.S. commissioner Don Garber answers questions virtually Wednesday night.