On a night where the Brooklyn Nets made harder work trying to beat the Atlanta Hawks than they should have, they once again relied on center Brook Lopez to help secure the victory, only this time it was a defensive play that made the difference. Lopez continues to make a strong case for All-Star selection and his block on a running Jeff Teague shot with just 28.9 seconds remaining in the game may have saved the day for Brooklyn.
Lopez finished with 20-points (16 in the second half), 6 rebounds and that crucial block that came at a time when Atlanta were making a late run.
Lopez' ability on the offensive end has never been questioned, he's always had efficiency on that end of the floor, but it's his improved outings on the other end that has made Lopez a strong chance to be selected for Houston next month. This season alone Lopez is averaging 18.6 points per game to go with his 7.3 rebounds – numbers you can expect on a nightly basis from Lopez – but it's the career-high number of 2.1 blocks per game that is most impressive. Lopez' weak side help has been key for the swarming defensive schemes designed by head coach P.J. Carlisemo.
Nets point guard Deron Williams acknowledged how far Lopez has come with his shot-blocking.
"A long way," Williams said. "His help side has been great this year and he's had a lot of key blocks for us this season. Just his presence defensively, when guys are coming into the lane he's challenging and if he doesn't get a blocked shot, he's a big guy people see him. He's a big guy down there in the post."
Lopez feels like his effort on the defensive end – making plays like his late game block – are befitting of an All-Star, but getting the win was more important.
"No question," said Lopez. "That's not how I think though. I was just out there trying to get that stop when we needed it. We've really been trying to focus on fighting for 50-50 balls, so [that's] been a larger focus for us the last few days."
To look at the Nets roster on paper one could easily make the assumption that Williams and Joe Johnson – a six-time All-Star himself – would be the likely candidates to represent Brooklyn next month, take a look at the team's record without Lopez this season (2-5) – coincidentally, that was the period in which early season collapse began – and it becomes more evident how important to this team the center really is.
If it were up to Carlisemo, he would have all three of his guys playing in Houston, but added that Lopez has been the standout so far.
"They're all worthy of being All-Stars," Carlesimo said of Lopez, Johnson, and Williams after last night's game. “I’ve been saying all year, I think he’s [Lopez] been playing as well as any center in the league, I don’t know another center that’s playing better than him. I can think of a couple others playing really well, but I just don’t think there’s anybody playing better than him."
And what if Lopez doesn't get selected?
"Brook should be [an All-Star], but it's in the coaches hands now so I feel good about that," said Carlisemo. "The only good news if they don't make it, they get some rest."
mage via: Howard Simmons/New York Daily News