Lopez Out Again, Nets Searching for Stability
Brook Lopez is out tomorrow.
The Nets' starting center won't be able to attempt a full practice until the scheduled one Saturday, and even then, his status against Milwaukee will depend on a clean recovery by Sunday's shootaround.
Coach Avery Johnson explained the team's outlook in a Thursday conference call: "The one thing you don't want to do is put him out there too soon, and then maybe he over-compensates in another area because he's still not confident in the foot."
Andray Blatche has been starting in Lopez's place, averaging 17.7 points (.532 FG%) and 9.3 rebounds in 29.3 minutes. He's fit in offensively with the starting unit, helping the team produce 109.6 points per 100 possessions in his three games as a starter, according to NBA.com/Stats; that is ahead of the Nets' 108.4 offensive efficiency with Lopez playing this season. Where the difference comes is on defense: on that end, the Nets with Blatche are posting a 107.0 efficiency rating – skewed though it might be by Tuesday's uptempo loss to the Thunder – well behind their 102.9 with Lopez, who has blocked nearly three shots per game.
Though Blatche doesn't match the defensive presence of Lopez, he has played well when paired with rugged forward Reggie Evans, whom the Nets
are hopeful have announced will return for Friday's game after the flu kept him out against Oklahoma City. That duo has helped the team produce a staggering net rating of +12.6 (Off: 105.6; Def: 92.7) in their 205 minutes together. Johnson has said he'll work to find ways to stagger substitutions in order to pair Blatche and Evans, and that will mean playing Kris Humphries at center in smaller lineups that feature Gerald Wallace at the 4.
"Andray's a confident player," Johnson said. "He's never lacking in confidence – or sense of humor. He still, in his mind, thinks he's a starter. I think the program and the plan that we have him on, he sees the benefits of it. Even today, when he came in today, he came in with a great attitude. And here's a guy who's starting for us now. But he came in with a great attitude, got his work done. He likes the system, he wants to be in the system, he wants to be held accountable. And I think that's what's causing him to really thrive."
"He's real confident right now and he's got something to prove. He wants to prove it, that he's a good teammate and a player that the coach can count on."
After a stretch of nine games in 14 days, Johnson opted for two days without an official practice, though MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic, Tyshawn Taylor and Toko Shengelia were required to come in for workouts. Some of the others voluntarily hit the weights (Kris Humphries) or came in for specific training (Blatche).
"It's a tricky balance," Johnson explained. "That's part of coaching – it's not always what we do and adjustments we make in the course of a game. It's pretty much knowing your team. Prime example: we had a scheduled practice in Orlando the day before we played the Magic. That particular day was what we called a 'hard practice' on the schedule. After the Boston game (a victory that included an altercation between Humphries and Rajon Rondo), I decided that I wanted the whole team to meet me at the pool at 12 noon for lunch.
" We weren't going to meet at the gym. We were just going to meet at the pool, have lunch, have a little bonding day, sothe guys can enjoy what they do -- and you know what, the next day, those guys were lights out, they played pretty good basketball, especially in the second half of the Orlando game. You have to know the pulse of your team. And a lot of that is as much as that is about coaching as strategy during the course of a game."
Forward Gerald Wallace was fined by the league for flopping against Miami, joining teammate Reggie Evans, who was tagged earlier this season. Johnson wasn't troubled:
"We're not getting picked on. We're a good defensive team. Unfortunately, two of our guys have gotten fined. But the two guys that got fined, both Reggie and Gerald, that's not going to affect their play. But at the same time, we'll continue to communicate. Billy does a great job of communicating with the league. But I think you'll see those guys take out any sense of frustrating they may have toward a fine by playing better defense and good defense to help our team win."