Today’s news:

Nets are defenseless without Lopez

for The Brooklyn Paper

Brook is back in Brooklyn and all is right again in the world of the Nets, right? Well, not quite.

In the three games since center Brook Lopez’s return, the Nets have gone just 1–2, with the sole win coming against the sorry Detroit Pistons. What’s worse is that the Nets held fourth quarter leads in the losses to Bulls and Jazz and got good looks in the final seconds of each game, only to botch the tying or winning shot.

In Saturday’s loss to Chicago, coach Avery Johnson pulled Lopez with 5:37 left in the fourth and the Nets with a 77–71 advantage. It wasn’t until the 1:25 mark that Lopez reentered the contest — two uncontested lay-ups too late. By that point the Bulls had cut the lead to two and after a Joe Johnson turnover just moments later, erased it entirely. Lopez logged only 25 minutes, as Johnson promised he would until it was clear how his sprained foot would respond to game action.

Those four crunch-time minutes that Lopez sat on the bench meant the difference between a win and a loss for the Nets.

At the beginning of the season, this column looked at Lopez’s defense as a potential Achilles for this team. Through 24 games, it’s been anything but — Lopez has been the anchor to the Nets’ stingy defense. He is averaging 2.53 blocks per game, nearly a full block more than his career average and good for sixth in the league. In the games he missed, the Nets surrendered an average of 99 points per game, as opposed to only 91 when he’s in the lineup. Beyond the impressive stat lines, his presence in the paint constantly alters shots, changing how teams attack the Nets.

Thus far, December has been a month that the Nets wouldn’t mind forgetting. As Brooklyn enters the new year, hopefully the team will look back at Lopez’s December return as the turning point for the rest of the season.

Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.

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