Mason Plumlee played so well Tuesday night that Lionel Hollins couldn’t remember Brook Lopez’s name, or even think of anyone who’d play above him.
“Tonight, nobody asked me about, uh, um… I don’t even know his name right now,” Hollins said, before trailing off to check the score sheet in front of him. “Brook Lopez.”
Lopez played just eight minutes in his first game back, scoring six points and adding four rebounds in his short stints, while Plumlee shined once again, putting up 19 points & 13 rebounds, mostly scoring with his usual barrage of dunks, in the team’s 102-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
When asked if Plumlee’s play had made it difficult for Hollins to play other bigs in those spots — a thinly veiled question about Lopez — Hollins said, with the flat tone of someone asked if making cake was easier with eggs or pencils, said, “what other bigs am I going to play in those spots?”
Hollins might’ve forgotten Lopez’s name during a stretch in the fourth quarter, when with the Nets down 5, Plumlee rotated the wrong way on a defensive assignment and recovered quickly to stifle Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic at the rim. Then, on the other side of the floor, Plumlee put in a wild reverse layup through contact, flexing and screaming obscenities in celebration after the make.
“You’re just in the moment,” Plumlee said of his fourth-quarter performance. “You’re in the zone, some people say. It’s a great feeling. You’re anticipating things on defense, you’re where you’re supposed to be on offense, and things just come easy.”
The starting role belongs to Plumlee for the time being, certainly as he continues to play like this. In the past seven games, he has averaged 18.1 points. 10.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and one steal in 35 minutes per game.
His resurgence coincided with a discussion he had with Hollins about getting back to basics.
“Mason’s made a conscious decision to go and just play and not worry about what I say,” Hollins added. “If I yell at him, if I take him out of the game, just go play. His confidence is rising.”
Plumlee said he was listening to what Hollins said, but earlier in the season, wasn’t always taking it the right way. “It’s the strategic points, the helping points. When you’re kind of in your groove, whatever’s said to you, you can turn it positive. If (Hollins is) saying something to me about my free throws, I’m saying, ‘well, that’s because he wants me in at the end of the game to hit a free throw.’ You know? It’s just kind of, when you’re rolling, you turn it into something positive, and you take the criticism and encouragement all the same and turn it to your advantage.”
His steady and exciting play — he’s the most exciting thing about this team right now, bar none — is the reason why he’s stuck in the lineup, and why Hollins feels no rush to bring Brook Lopez back into the starting lineup, or even make sure he says his name without double-checking.
Joking or not (and it didn’t seem like it in real time) the picture Hollins was painting was clear: for the time being, Plumlee has rendered his competition on the team nameless.