Behind Brook Lopez, Nets Solidify Playoff Push (HIGHLIGHTS)

At times, the playoff push feels more like a playoff stagger, as the Nets amble ahead in the Eastern Conference standings. But with what was on the line, the Brooklyn Nets will take any win they can get.

Despite a close game down the stretch, the Nets somehow never trailed the Los Angeles Lakers, winning 107-99 at home to improve to 32-40 on the season. After the Boston Celtics fell at home to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets moved back into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since January 25th.

The Nets have an odd habit of playing up — and down — to their competition, and Sunday afternoon they did just that. The team never trailed, but they also didn’t put the game away until the final moments, and led only 96-93 with 3:47 left. After a time-out, the Nets ran a picture-perfect pick-and-roll play, getting Brook Lopez a two-handed dunk in a suddenly-open lane. It was the fourth and final field goal Lopez put down that came out of a pick-and-roll with Deron Williams.

“That was exactly what coach drew up,” Williams said. “I don’t know if he said ‘go dunk it,’ but that’s the way it worked out.” Williams finished the game with 13 points (5-13 FG) and a team-high nine assists, four of them going to Lopez.

“I don’t know if we’ve found something, but it’s just getting used to having D-Will and myself on the same page again,” Lopez added. “It’s something we’ve had before.”

It took another 30-point performance from Lopez, who has now scored at least that many in four of his last six games. Prior to this stretch, he’d scored more than 30 points just once all season. Despite adding 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, Lopez was unhappy with his overall performance, saying he was “disappointed” in how he’d played. “I thought my focus was a little off tonight,” Lopez said. No one else agreed.

The victory kicked off a rough schedule ahead for the Nets: the win over the Lakers was their first game in a series of five in seven days, including two back-to-backs starting Tuesday. The latter back-to-back is against two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference: the Toronto Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks. But both teams may be vulnerable; the Raptors have lost 12 of their last 18 games, and the Hawks may begin resting their players after clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

More notes:

  • If anyone was distracted Sunday, it wasn’t Lopez; in March Madness news, the 7th-seeded Michigan State Spartans — Nets guard Alan Anderson’s alma mater — upset the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals and earned a Cinderella trip to the Final Four. Following the game, Anderson screamed “SPARTAAAAAAA!” about once per minute in the locker room for a solid 30 minutes, interrupting media time with other players. Anderson then wore a Michigan State hat and shirt when speaking to reporters.

    According to Anderson, the injured Thaddeus Young kept him updated on the game throughout, joking with him that they’d lost when the game was over. He later asked new Nets forward and Louisville alum Earl Clark about his plans after the game. Clark seemingly declined to join him.

  • Lopez in the last week (four games): 28.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in 38 minutes per game, including three 30-point performances. He was not listed among the NBA’s nominees for Eastern Conference Player of the Week in previous weeks, but he may get a shot this time around.
  • Byron Scott on Brook Lopez: “Brook is just so big and skilled. It’s hard when you’re undersized like we are to play against a guy that good. You have to give him a lot of credit, but we made some bonehead mistakes against him early in the game, just losing him. It’s kind of hard to lose somebody as big as Brook is, but he was able to maneuver himself around the basket. Our bigs just kind of lost him for certain periods, and he was able to capitalize on it.”
  • Markel Brown had perhaps the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 17 points, adding four assists, four rebounds, and two steals in 36 minutes. His finest pass:

    Hollins on Brown: “Tonight he made shots and he was aggressive. Yesterday at practice, he really was shooting the ball well, and I just walked over and I told him, ‘you’ve got to shoot with that kind of confidence in the game. Just play. If they put someone that can’t guard you on you, just drive to the basket and make a play, whether it’s scoring or not.'”

    Brown did make at least one nice play driving to the basket.
  • It was “Celebration of Chinese Culture” afternoon at Nets-Lakers. Both team’s introductions were in Mandarin, as well as the pre-game directions to be respectful of others in the arena. Jeremy Lin, the only Asian-American player on either team and a celebrity since the days of “Linsanity,” was ruled out.
  • For some perspective:

  • You blink and Joe Johnson has 18 points (7-14 FG), eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals.