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Guards' struggles magnify Lopez's value

12/16/2012
Brook Lopez posted 18 points and 10 rebounds in just 25 minutes Saturday. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Nets coach Avery Johnson had said center Brook Lopez was going to be on a 22- to 26-minute restriction Saturday night.

So it came as no surprise when Johnson pulled Lopez off the floor with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter and the Nets leading the Chicago Bulls, 77-71.

Lopez had played about half the game while posting 18 points and 10 rebounds -- nine points and six rebounds more than he posted during the same amount of action in his return to the lineup Friday night after missing seven games because of a sprained right foot.

At that point, Lopez's night should've been over. The game should've been over, too.

Neither was. And, as a result, an encouraging performance by Lopez was overshadowed by what transpired in next 4 minutes, 25 seconds.

Let's take a look at the Nets' possessions over that span:

5:01: Turnover, Joe Johnson

4:13: Missed shot, Andray Blatche

3:32: Missed 3-point shot, Johnson

2:47: Missed shot, Deron Williams

2:00: Williams makes two of thee free throws

1:30: Turnover, Blatche

In those six possessions, the Nets went 0-for-3 from the field and committed two turnovers while being outscored 6-2.

That prompted Avery Johnson to re-insert Lopez at the 1:25 mark with his team ahead by just two.

The rest of the Nets' possessions went like this:

1:05: Turnover, Johnson

0:39: Missed shot, Lopez

0:06: Missed shot, Williams

0:00: 3-pointer, Williams

Prior to D-Will's buzzer-beater, the Nets had nine possessions, went 0-for-5 from the field and committed three turnovers while being outscored 12-2. They lost, 83-82.

So what exactly does this mean, the fact that Brooklyn squandered a lead with Lopez on the bench? It means that Lopez, as he has been all season, is the Nets' most valuable player. With him in the lineup, Brooklyn is 11-5, including 4-4 against .500 or better teams. Without him in the lineup, Brooklyn is 2-5, 0-5 against .500 or better teams.

After giving up just 90.7 points per game in their first 14 games with Lopez, the Nets gave up 99.9 points per game during his seven-game absence. Since his return, they've given up 94.0 (granted, one of the two games went into double overtime).

When Lopez exited at the 5:37 mark, Avery Johnson had every reason to believe D-Will and Iso Joe could carry the team to victory. Instead, Joe Johnson went 0-for-1 with two critical turnovers -- including one with 1:05 left that led to the tying basket -- while Williams went 1-for-3 (0-for-2 when it mattered) and missed a 19-footer with six seconds remaining that would've tied the score.

"Brooklyn's Backcourt" has shown flashes of brilliance -- Joe Johnson's buzzer-beater on Friday night being the latest -- but for the most part, Johnson and Williams have been disappointments. And who knows if they'll develop any sort of consistency.

Just take a look at these stats:

• Johnson is averating 16.8 points per game, but is hitting just 43 percent of his shots.

• Williams averages 17 points and 8.3 assists, but his shooting -- 39 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range -- is even worse than Johnson's. D-Will is also connecting on just 33.3 percent of his jump shots, according to basketball-reference.com, and is a 26.7 percent shooter in the fourth quarter.

• Of 62 qualifying guards, Williams ranks 58th in field goal percentage. Joe Johnson is 32nd.

Lopez, by the way, is averaging 17.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. His shooting percentage (.523) is in the top 20 in the league, which is what you would hope for from a 7-foot center.

Lopez and his $60 million right foot have to remain healthy for the rest of the season. It's why the Nets have been so careful and are bringing him back slowly.

Because, let's be honest: If Lopez gets hurt again, the Nets might not make the playoffs with the way their nearly $190 million backcourt is performing.