Garnett 'in awe' of Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez of the Nets shoots past Joakim Brook Lopez of the Nets shoots past Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the United Center. (May 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Kevin Garnett shook his head ever so slightly, thinking of precisely the right way to frame his thoughts.

It's almost like the 19-year NBA veteran had woken up and found a big, shiny toy laying on his kitchen table and is still trying to figure out how to play with it.

"I'm just in awe a little bit, just being honest with everybody," Garnett said after the retooled Nets' 111-106 win over the Wizards in their preseason opener Tuesday night. "His skill level is impressive and I haven't been around a skill level like that versus playing [against one] I don't think ever. So, this is an adjustment for me. I'm just making sure I'm keying in on that and making sure the two of us is on the same page.

"But impressed. Impressed is the word that jumps right out."

Garnett's praise for Brook Lopez was effusive just before training camp even tipped off last week, underscoring how happy he is to be teamed down low with the Nets' 7-foot All-Star center. But 12-plus minutes on the court together, along with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, on Tuesday really had Garnett pondering the possibilities of this potentially dynamic duo.

A lengthy adjustment won't be necessary in his eyes.

"Not long at all," Garnett said. "Both high basketball I.Q.'s, both unselfish guys. It's cool."

Seeking to piggy-back on last season's first-time All-Star status -- and his showing in the Nets' seven game-playoff series versus the Bulls in which he averaged 22.3 points and 7.4 rebounds -- Lopez has come into camp with a sense of purpose and focus that has his teammates raving. That buzz won't dissipate after the way Lopez started off the preseason with a flurry, unleashing an array of moves en route to canning 6 of 7 shots against the Wizards and posting 15 points in limited action.

Pierce said that with the number of weapons around Lopez this season, it will make it more difficult to double-team Lopez, making those kinds of nights more frequent.

"He looked good, man," Pierce said. "That's what we are going to try to do night in, night out -- try to establish our inside game. We feel like we've got an advantage there each and every night. He is one of the young best centers in the league and we are going to establish him.

"He's going to be a force to be reckoned with. Last year, obviously he was an All-Star so hopefully he can come in and build on that this year. If he can come in and be an All-Star again this year, it's going to do wonders for our team because we have perimeter depth. We have guys who can shoot to loosen him up."

Best sign of all? Lopez, who's had three surgeries on his right foot, appears to be fully healed from his latest procedure in Junewhen he had the screw in his foot replaced.

"It's absolutely where it should be," Lopez said. "It was great throughout training camp. There were no problems and it felt great [Wednesday]."

In search of widening his frame and building up his body mass, Lopez put on weight in the offseason. He came into camp around 290 pounds and said he'll probably play at roughly 285, up 10 pounds from last season.

"I do feel stronger," Lopez said. "It helped me in all the right areas. I don't really think it hindered me getting up and down the floor or anything like that."

Andrei Kirilenko certainly didn't notice anything hindering Lopez's game. Playing with Lopez for the first time had him all smiles, too.

"He is tremendous," Kirilenko said. "He was so efficient. Other than scoring points, he's such a great presence inside. He puts so much pressure [on the defense], so it creates a lot of opportunities for the wings. Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce had a great time slashing in and out because Brook was putting so much pressure on inside."

Reggie Evans took Lopez under his wing last season and got him in the weight room more, trying to instill a mentality inside him to help his game blossom. Lopez's gradual metamorphosis and constant improvement can be traced to one thing in Evans' estimation: desire.

"The man works hard as hell, both during practice and after practice," Evans said. "He's real humble. I mean, like real humble. He still wants to learn, still willing to learn. He knows what he needs to work on. He knew what he needed to work on coming into this season. So, I think that this year, he definitely will not be one of the type of players where it's, 'Oh somebody gets hurt, then he'll make the All-Stars.' Nah, it'll be outright. In my opinion, he's the best big man in the league."

If that's indeed true, then the guy who's never one to shine much spotlight on himself suggests it's more of the product of the people he's on the floor with. That's what makes him so giddy now, knowing he's riding shotgun with Garnett & Co.

"Our team is just so fortunate when you look at our starting lineup," Lopez said. "It could come from anywhere any night. It depends on whoever gets going. They have to respect everyone on the floor and we play through that person.

"So, we can score and those same players are unselfish, and great team players and move the ball well. It's a great situation for us."

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