Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the better part of the last year, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard, unquestionably two of the best true big men in the NBA today, have been tethered by rampant trade speculation.
The speculation died down during free agency last summer after the Nets and Orlando Magic came to an impasse on a potential trade. The Nets re-upped Lopez for four years and $61 million on July 11, Howard, in the final year of his contract, was traded to the Lakers on August 10 and everyone went their separate ways, but still with the possibility of a trade faintly hanging in the air.
At shootaround on Tuesday morning before the Lakers meet the Nets on at Barclays Center, Howard told the media that he would not be available.
Today, he and Lopez are in different places. Howard has been suffering through a torn right labrum for a disappointing team in Los Angeles. Compounding Howard’s problems, his contact situation remains unsettled with the trade deadline looming on Feb. 21.
On the other side, Lopez is having a career year, averaging 18.7 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 52.6 percent from the field. The 7-footer was named to his first All-Star Game last week and while the possibility of a trade hasn’t quite disappeared, it seems very unlikely given the season he is having combined with the Nets being 28-19 and in the mix in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
“You don’t really have to worry about coming with energy in games like these when you’re playing the Lakers,” Lopez said at shootaround on Tuesday morning at PNY Center. “We just want to make sure our guys come out ready to play, come out focused and we know we’re going to have energy.”
Head-to-head, Howard owns a gaudy 11-1 record against Lopez, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. In those 12 games, which includes a 95-90 Lakers win back on Nov. 20, Howard is averaging 20.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and shooting 62 percent from the field. Lopez has done considerably less in those 12 games, averaging 14.5 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field.
All of those numbers are probably better kept in the past. Lopez has played better this season than what most of his career numbers show and he is also working with a better cast of characters now than at any point during his career.
Additionally, he is also healthy. Lopez missed all but five games last season with a broken right foot. This season, the Nets went 2-5 in a seven-game stretch with Lopez on the shelf with a sprained ligament in his right foot.
“The more people work, the more good things happen and he’s worked very, very hard,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “I wasn’t here other offseasons, so I don’t whether he would say he’s worked harder than he has in other offseasons or not. It would seem he has. I think definitely the things he’s done with his body, in terms of getting stronger, the way he’s defending and the way he’s becoming a more consistent rebounder, there’s no question about those things in the two years I’ve been here.”
The Nets will look to run their record against sub-.500 teams to 18-0 against the 22-26 Lakers. However, the Lakers have shown signs of life lately, winning five of their last six including a 98-97 decision at the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon.
The Nets have lost nine in a row to the Lakers, a streak that began with a 105-90 Lakers win over the then-New Jersey Nets. That game also happened to be the Lakers debut for Pau Gasol. In that game, Gasol scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out four assists.
Without Howard, the Lakers will hope to get similar production from Gasol.
C.J. Watson (sprained left ankle) is probable, MarShon Brooks (sprained right ankle) is questionable, and Jerry Stackhouse (stiff neck) and Andray Blatche (illness) are both game-time decisions. Toko Shengelia (c0ncussion) remains out.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA