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Sunday, February 19, 2012
Lopez rusty in season debut

By Mike Mazzeo

Brook Lopez is an 80 percent career free-throw shooter.

In his season debut on Sunday night, though, the Nets center connected on just 5 of his 11 attempts at the stripe.

“I’m gonna attribute that to rust,” said Lopez, who returned after missing the first 32 games of the season with a broken foot to score nine points on 2-for-7 shooting and grab two rebounds in 22 minutes during the Nets’ 92-85 loss to the Bucks at Prudential Center.

“It was just exciting to be back out there, playing with the guys and getting up and down.”

Lopez looks nothing like the fringe All-Star he was last season, when he led the team in scoring, averaging 20.3 points per game. But given how much time he missed, that’s to be expected.

“Brook had a lot of rust in his game [Sunday night], which is why we wanted to get him out there and we will keep trying to get him in game condition, which is not probably going to be until 3-to-6 games after the All-Star break,” coach Avery Johnson said. “He ran the floor pretty good, but he got tired.

“He had some shots that didn’t go down, but the main thing is he got to the free-throw line 11 times, and he will make more than five.”

Lopez suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot on Dec. 21 and underwent surgery two days later. He ended up missing just over eight weeks. Lopez will sit out Monday night’s game at the Garden against the Knicks before returning to the lineup on Wednesday night at home vs. Dwight Howard and the Magic.

“No question I wanna get right back out there,” said Lopez, who prior to 2011-12 had never missed a game in the first three seasons of his career. “Timmy [Walsh] is gonna have to watch me the whole day. I’m gonna try to sneak my jersey on.”

Lopez had to change shoes during the game because he was feeling a lot of pressure on the arch of his foot, but said he didn’t experience any pain or anything, and wasn’t thinking at all about his foot.

“That was pretty much the last piece of the puzzle before deciding I was ready,” Lopez said. “I’m fully confidence in my foot.”

Lopez said it was strange getting re-acclimated to the pace of the NBA game.

“It’s very fast, my head was spinning the first few minutes,” Lopez said. “I was just trying to focus on bringing energy and protecting the rim.”

Going into the season, the Nets envisioned Lopez’s post scoring meshing well with Deron Williams’ ability to break down defenses. But the 23-year-old got hurt, and the whole season has become one huge debacle. Injuries and a lack of continuity have all but killed the Nets’ chances of reaching the postseason.

Still, as they move forward, having Lopez back can’t hurt. Prior to Sunday night, the Nets ranked dead last in the NBA in points in the paint (30.7). And they’ve been starting Shelden Williams and Johan Petro, so Lopez will help -- a ton.

He’s currently in the final year of his rookie scale contract and will earn $3.1 million. After that, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

Lopez has been talked about in blockbuster trade talks for D-12. Those talks should heat up again before the March 15 deadline.

But until then, the Nets can only hope Lopez returns to form and becomes as dominant a force as he was before he got injured.

“He looked good for the most part, he got to the free throw line a lot,” D-Will said. “His touch is gone right now a little bit, and that will take time. Timing around the basket, things like that will take him time to get back accustomed to it, but he looked good [Sunday night].”