Brook Lopez now stands in Nets’ title path with Bucks

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When he was a Net, Brook Lopez played with Vince Carter … under coach Lawrence Frank … at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.

Yes, Lopez’s rookie season with the 2008-09 Nets feels like several lifetimes ago. In fact, Carter played for six more teams after that final season with the Nets before retirement. Frank was 10 head coaches ago for the Nets. They’ve even changed home arenas twice — and states once — since then.

Through most of that change, Lopez was a constant lone bright spot for some non-competitive teams during a nine-year run that ended when he was traded to the Lakers in June 2017. Four years later, he will be starting for the Bucks against the Nets in a playoff series that begins Saturday night.

“I have great memories of my time with the Nets and I look back on them fondly a lot,” the 33-year-old Lopez said. “Definitely wish we could’ve been more successful in the playoffs, but I played with a lot of great players … and so many special people from a teammate, coaching and organizational standpoint.”

Lopez received a warm welcome in his first game as a visitor at Barclays Center, when he scored 12 of his 19 points during a third-quarter rally to lead the Lakers to a win on Feb. 2, 2018. That same night, Joe Harris missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer — and now Harris is the only former teammate facing Lopez because Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL) is out for the season and Caris LeVert was traded in January.

Bucks
Brook Lopez
AP

“Brook is one of my favorite guys in the NBA,” Harris said. “He’s one of those guys who’s very charismatic and people gravitate toward him.”

The Nets had as many 60-loss seasons (three) as playoff berths during Lopez’s tenure, which was highlighted by selections to the All-Rookie team and the 2012 All-Star team. He was the Nets’ leading scorer in first-round playoff exits against the Bulls and the Hawks and missed most of the 2013-14 season, including the playoffs, with a foot injury when rentals Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got the Nets to the second round.

So, does this series feel different than the other six he has played over three seasons since joining the Bucks?

“It will probably be different,” Lopez said. “I don’t really know yet. I’m excited to go back and play on that court in Brooklyn again, but we’re going to be pretty focused once tip-off comes.”

These Nets are title favorites because Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving seemingly score at will, but Lopez is the franchise’s all-time leader in points (10,444). He also ranks second in games played and third in rebounds — and is still filling the boxscore in Milwaukee.

“He could be one of the wild cards,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.

Nets fans who haven’t kept tabs on Lopez might not recognize his current game.

In his first eight seasons with the Nets, Lopez totaled three 3-pointers. He was just becoming a stretch-five when he left town, and now he has made 95 or more 3s in five straight seasons, shooting 34.3 percent from behind the arc during his Bucks career. He still can turn back the clock, however.

“I make the joke whenever he is in the paint and hitting those step-back fadeaways from 12-15 feet, I call him, ‘Brooklyn Brook,’ ” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “Because that’s what he was doing when he was an All-Star in Brooklyn. For us, we spread the floor, and Brook has really taken advantage of his size and his skill and his ability to have an impact on the game inside the 3-point line as well as outside.”

On a team led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton, Lopez was a difference-maker with 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game during the Bucks’ first-round sweep of the Heat. Both averages represent spikes from his regular-season numbers (12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds).

“Brook is the epitome of he is going to play the way that he plays,” Connaughton said, “no matter if it is a regular-season game or a postseason game.”

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