The Brooklyn Nets practiced Monday, and for the first time since the Boston game on Nov. 28, center Brook Lopez joined his teammates for a full contact session. Lopez has missed the five games since after suffering a mild sprain of the right foot. Both X-rays and an MRI were negative, but Lopez has only recently graduated to moving beyond shooting and straight-ahead running. He will be a gametime decision Tuesday against the Knicks.
"I'm feeling good," Lopez said. "It was great to go through an entire practice. I wasn't sure I'd be able to – not necessarily because of whatever happened with my foot, but just my conditioning."
Coach Avery Johnson said Lopez was "okay" in this first showing, but "not quite his own self." Johnson went on to explain that recovery would play an important part in determining the center's game status.
The team will monitor Lopez from the beginning of tomorrow's shootaround, all the way through the pregame workouts, before making the call. Johnson, though quick to recognize Lopez's impact on the offense and shot-blocking defensive presence, seemed to pump the brakes of caution regarding the potential return.
"At the same time, we can't treat Brook like he is a savior, because the chances of him playing tomorrow are not very high," Johnson said. "That's why the rest of the guys who are going to be in uniform tomorrow for sure we got to play much better."
Lopez's participation in the second "Clash of the Boroughs" would be a boon to the Nets' chances of snapping the four-game slide, especially considering his 22-point, 11-rebound, 5-block showing in the Nets' 96-89 victory November 26. Additionally, his return would slide Andray Blatche back to the bench, where the eighth-year veteran offers a tremendous advantage against second-team centers (Blatche has averaged 17.2 points on .525 shooting in five games as a starter, along with 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals).
With Lopez's status yet to be determined, Johnson continues to explore all options in the frontcourt after swapping Reggie Evans into the starting lineup, where he replaced Kris Humphries against the Bucks. Gerald Wallace, who has often shifted to power forward in successful smaller lineups, could also get a look, which comes as no surprise to his teammates.
"We knew that from last year, that one of our best lineups is with (Gerald) at the 4," Williams said. "He poses a lot of matchup problems and he can guard 4s, so it's not like it's a mismatch for us. He's a great passer, a willing passer. Our offense runs a little smoother with him at the 4 and we have another guy out there who can pass and find people."