Lopez helps Nets end two-game skid

Jim Hague, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - After the Brooklyn Nets lost the last two games of their recent Western road trip, the team's rejuvenated center Brook Lopez knew it was time to get back to business.
"I was really disappointed with the way we lost the last two games," Lopez said. "We wanted to come back home and play a big game. It was just a matter of coming out with energy and remaining focused. For me, it was just a matter of re-inventing myself and being more aggressive."
Lopez, who played only five games last season due to a broken right foot and a sprained ankle on the same foot after he returned, has been a dominant force for Brooklyn so far this season. He's become the Nets' leading scorer and Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, it was more of the same.
Lopez scored 26 points, just one shy of his season high, leading the Nets to an impressive 86-76 victory over the Clippers at the Barclays Center.
The Nets (7-4) outscored the Clippers 11-0 in a span of 3:14 in the fourth quarter to take command of the game, with Lopez hitting two clutch shots and Joe Johnson (19 points on 8-of-12 from the floor) calmly canning a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:42 left.
The Nets snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-1 at their new $1 billion home.
The Clippers (8-4) got 14 points each from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but neither All-Star did much after intermission, when they held a seven-point lead. Neither Paul nor Griffin scored a single point in the fourth quarter. Paul fouled out with less than a minute to play. Griffin had just two points after halftime.
"This definitely shows what we can do as a team in the paint," said Lopez, who also blocked three shots. "Everyone is helping each other and it's a great feeling."
Johnson is also getting more comfortable with his new teammates. He shot only 12-of-39 from the floor during the three-game road trip, but looked on target Friday night.
"I think it's a case of just taking my time," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm getting into a rhythm now and it's good to make shots. It then became a chain reaction. We all chipped in and all picked up the slack on both ends. We're getting good chemistry now and that means a lot. We can put those other games (on the West Coast) behind us and not have a negative effect."
The Clippers were also plagued by 20 turnovers while scoring the fewest points in a game this season. The Clippers entered the game as the NBA's third-best scoring team, averaging 102.4 points per game. Clippers' head coach Vinny Del Negro was so upset with his club that he held a closed-door meeting with the team after the game, keeping the media at bay for almost 30 minutes.
"The turnovers really hurt us tonight," Del Negro said. "We have to do a better job of controlling that. Every time we got a defensive stop, we would turn it over on the break, like stepping out of bounds or throwing it away. We couldn't execute the way we need to. I know we didn't shoot it well, but we kept turning it over. Brooklyn scored a few baskets and we could never get any rhythm. The turnovers really set us back."
DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers and Jamal Crawford scored 13 points off the bench. Paul had nine assists.
Deron Williams had 11 points and eight assists for the Nets, but seemed to be bothered most of the night with some sort of right hand injury.
Lopez and Johnson hit consecutive shots to give the Nets a 74-69 lead with 6:08 left, Brooklyn's largest lead since midway through the second quarter.
However, the Clippers responded by scoring five straight points, a conventional three-point play from DeAndre Jordan and a floating jumper from Jamal Crawford, tying the game once again at 74-74 with 4:41 left.
Lopez then gave the Nets the lead for good with two powerful moves to the basket, giving the Nets a 79-74 lead with 3:03 remaining.
The two teams both struggled mightily to start the fourth quarter, as each team missed its first five shots in the period before Keith Bogans nailed a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing, giving the Nets a 66-63 lead with 9:31 remaining.
The Nets worked hard to eliminate the Clippers' seven-point advantage Los Angeles held at the half.
Lopez scored his team's first four points of the second half, then made a strong move down low to tie the game at 53-53 with 6:03 remaining in the third period.
The two teams then traded the lead three times in the closing 2:08, with Andray Blatche hitting a corner jumper to give the Nets a 62-61 lead, but Ryan Hollins dunked home a great pass from Paul with 57 seconds left to begin the fourth quarter tied at 63-63.
At that point, the Clippers held a commanding 36-18 lead in rebounding, with Jordan paving the way with 13 rebounds. Lopez scored 10 points in the third quarter, as the Nets outscored the Clippers, 23-16, to tie the game.
"We had one of the better second halves we've had all year," Nets head coach Avery Johnson said. "The third quarter had been our Achilles heel before tonight. I just think our guys were locked in from start to finish, especially defensively."
Johnson also likes what he sees from Lopez, who was rumored to be the centerpiece of a possible trade with Orlando for Dwight Howard, but was re-signed to a max contract by the team for the next four seasons and $61 million.
"I think the thing that is most encouraging about Brook is the way he's taking the ball to the basket aggressively," Johnson said. "We've been encouraging him to do that. He's a really skilled big man. I am also really encouraged about his blocked shots. He's scoring the ball and controlling the paint."
Johnson hit two straight tough shots to give the Nets their biggest lead in the first half at 36-31, but the Clippers outscored the Nets, 16-4, over the last 4:15, scoring the last eight points to take a 47-40 lead into intermission.
Paul and Griffin had seven points each during that stretch. Griffin had a pretty spin move in the lane with 1:13 remaining, then Hollins and Paul each hit two free throws in the final minute to give Los Angeles its biggest lead at the break.
Griffin had 12 points to pace the Clippers, while Lopez and Johnson had 10 points each to lead the Nets.
NOTES: Nets small forward Gerald Wallace returned to action after sitting out the loss to Golden State to end the team's three-game Western swing. Wallace returned to action to face both Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle he suffered in the closing minutes of the season opener against Toronto. Wallace missed the Golden State game with what the Nets PR team released simply as "rest."...For some reason, the Nets wore their black road uniforms at home Friday, while the Clippers wore white...Rapper Jay-Z and wife Beyonce were spotted, sitting right next to the Nets' bench. Jay-Z owns a part of the Nets' franchise...Actor/comedian Ray Romano, a New York native, was also in attendance with his family...Actor Billy Crystal was also at the game, but Crystal, also a native New Yorker, has been a long-time Clippers fan....Before the opening tip, Nets reserve forward Jerry Stackhouse took the public address microphone and wished everyone Thanksgiving wishes.

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