Brook Lopez returned to the starting lineup, dominated the Eastern Conference’s best frontcourt . . . and went right back to the bench.
As the streaking Nets (15-16) try to get back to .500 for the first time since mid-November, Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee will start Friday at Orlando — again leaving Lopez as a backup.
Lopez is coming off a 29-point effort in Tuesday’s win over the Bulls, a game the center started because Garnett rested. Coach Lionel Hollins apparently doesn’t want to mess with benching alpha male Garnett, who has started every game he has played since 1996.
“That’s the way we’ve been going and we’re going to continue to go that way,” said Hollins, whose squad has won five of six heading into a Florida trip against two struggling teams — Orlando (13-22) and Miami (14-19). “I thought Brook played extremely well and he’s going to be a big factor in what we do. I just like the other lineup.”
Meanwhile, another high-priced reserve, Deron Williams, acknowledged that he’d like to play more than the 19.8 minutes per game he has averaged in four straight games off the bench, saying, “I’m a competitor.” But both he and Lopez have said all the right things about being “team players” while stepping into reduced roles.
When asked about managing the egos of the two former All-Stars, Hollins launched into a 3½-minute answer defiantly defending his decision.
“It gives our second unit a better look than what we had before,” Hollins said. “That’s what I’m trying to get to. It’s not always the All-Stars. (Former Boston swingman) John Havlicek was a perennial All-Star and came off the bench. . . . And Deron and Brook have great character. They want to win and they’ve had individual success. We want to have team success as we keep building to be as good as we can be this year and in the future as long as they’re here. The only people that bother me, that I worry about when those guys aren’t playing, are you guys (the media), because I hear it all the time. Somebody wrote, ‘Oh he sat two $ 35 million players on the bench.’ Come on. It’s not a demotion. It really isn’t. They’re still part of the team. Neither one of them got cut. They both go to the game every day and get paid every two weeks — and they get paid handsomely. This is a job. If you look at San Antonio, should (Manu) Ginobili be coming off the bench? He’s been coming off the bench most of his career and he’s made decent money.”
WOOKIEE OF THE YEAR
Only about a week ago, comic book enthusiast Lopez expressed his genuine desire to play a Wookiee in the next Star Wars movie. After word got out through the media, the 7-1 center was invited to the set of the eighth installment of the science fiction series. The wheels are in motion.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but (it’s going) pretty good so far,” Lopez said. “I don’t know. I don’t know, honestly. Like we all said before, they wrapped up the seventh episode. So, I think I get to go on a little, ‘go-see,’ or something like that, whatever the term is. If I can work it out, just check out, behind the scenes, everything.”
Would he be comfortable if his Wookiee had a love interest?
“Are there blond Wookiees? I wonder,” he said. “They’re all brunettes, right?”
SHOOTING TO GET OFF BENCH
Over the first third of the season, Bojan Bogdanovic has gone from often leading the Nets in minutes to out of the rotation. He is shooting just 32% in his last nine games and told the Daily News on Thursday that it’s going to be difficult to earn back Hollins’ faith from the bench. “When I play only five or 10 minutes per game, I have to show him in practice that I can play because it’s difficult to play five minutes and show him something,” the Croatian said.
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