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Lopez scores 35 to lead Carlesimo's Nets over Cavs

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Maybe it's a new coach. Perhaps his oft-injured right foot has fully healed. Whatever the reason, Brook Lopez is playing the best basketball of his career and had his best game of the year Saturday night, leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 103-100 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Barclays Center.

"I think it's more of a mindset," said Lopez, who had his third straight double-double, scoring a season-high 35 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. "I'm just trying to be more aggressive. We want to continue to play this way. As a team, we've tried to reunite together as a unit and come together as one."

Lopez, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Charlotte on Friday, gave interim coach P.J. Carlesimo his second straight win. Carlesimo was elevated to coach Thursday when Avery Johnson was fired.

"P.J. keeps harping on me to get closer to the basket and I'm listening to him," Lopez said. "It's human nature. No question about the fact I'm getting the ball in better position."

Carlesimo praised Lopez for perhaps returning to the form that helped the Nets jump out to an 11-4 record in November.

"He just hasn't been right since he hurt his foot," Carlesimo said. "He's given us good games since he's been back, but he wasn't the player he was in November. He's moving a little bit better. We're getting the ball to him better, and he's catching the ball close to the basket. Night and day, he's in a better position."

The Nets improved to 16-14 but just 5-10 in December. The Cavaliers (7-25) lost for the second straight time.

Aside from Lopez's big game, the Nets received 15 points and seven assists from Deron Williams and 15 points from Joe Johnson.

Johnson realizes how important Lopez is to the Nets' fortunes.

"Before Brook got hurt, we had a pretty good team," Johnson said. "Now, he's making some of the plays that he did. It's obviously good to have him back."

Veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who scored eight points off the bench, can see a change in the way the Nets are playing.

"I think we're playing with a little more spirit of late," Stackhouse said. "It's good to get a couple of wins to get our confidence back a little. We just have a little more energy. No one wanted to get the coach fired. But P.J.'s the coach now and we have to continue to play hard for him. Instead of putting our heads down when something goes wrong, we're making a conscious effort to correct the mistakes."

C.J. Miles had 33 points off the bench to lead Cleveland. Miles made 8 of 10 from behind the arc. Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving was held to 13 points and seven assists.

Cleveland came within three at 100-97, but Irving spun in the lane and missed a layup. After Williams made one free throw with 10 seconds left, Irving nailed a long 3-pointer to bring the Cavs to within one again at 101-100 with 5.6 seconds left. Irving had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but his 28-foot bomb rolled off the rim to give the Nets the win.

"They're a difficult team to guard," Carlesimo said of the Cavaliers. "C.J. was just in another zone and we didn't make the right adjustments to stop him. We put ourselves in a position where if that shot goes down, we're still out there playing more basketball. It was some good offense by Cleveland, but poor reads by us. We gave them open threes and let them get back into it."

Cleveland trimmed the lead to 79-78 with 11:21 remaining in the fourth quarter on a driving play from Jeremy Pargo. But the Nets went on a 9-1 run during which Lopez, Williams and Evans each made two free throws, giving Brooklyn an 88-79 lead with 8:17 left.

The Cavaliers made one last comeback and it almost came through, but Irving, who struggled all night, connecting on just 5 of 16 shots, couldn't make the final shot when it counted.

NOTES: Carlesimo had lunch Saturday with Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov. "He spoke of how he saw the team and we talked about how (general manager) Billy (King) and I saw the team," Carlesimo said. "He wants to win a championship and he's willing to do whatever it takes. He has a good understanding of the team. If we keep winning, that's good, because he definitely likes winning." Carlesimo said he wasn't planning to change much, but he may look to push the ball more than the Nets did when Johnson was coach. "We've played better when we've pushed it," Carlesimo said. "We don't want to just pack it in. Our bigs run pretty well, so we can push it. I think we want to do both, but it's a hard line to walk. I think we need to win and we'll deal with what we have to do." ... Nets F Kris Humphries (abdominal strain) was inactive for the fourth straight game and will miss at least the next two games. ... Anderson Varejao, who had 35 points and 18 rebounds in the first meeting between the two teams, won by the Nets 114-101 on Nov. 13, was inactive due to a deep knee bruise. Daniel Gibson and Samardo Samuels were also inactive for Cleveland.
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