EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Showcased at Barclays Center Tuesday night will be an All-Star big man who commands double teams and has become an imposing defensive presence down low.
And Dwight Howard might not even suit up for the Lakers.
It's the center the Nets still have who is quickly gaining a reputation as a defensive stalwart. "We've got a 7-footer with presence around the basket," Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Brook Lopez. "It's night and day. His attention to defense is so much better than it was before and it's helped our team defense significantly."
Lopez, who entered the NBA labeled as a "soft" defender, is seventh in the league in blocks, averaging a career-best 2.2 per game. More importantly, the Nets' fifth-ranked defense (94.5 points per game) has been a big factor in their 28-19 start.
"The time off last year helped," said Lopez, who broke his foot and played in only five games last season. "I got to spend lots of time in the weight room and watching film . . . I know all good defenses have a good big man in the middle."
Lopez, 24, has become a bigger man. He said he weighed in Sunday at 281 pounds -- up six pounds from training camp, and way up from 265 as a rookie. Point guard Deron Williams said the added muscle helps Lopez "move people around and [adds] an intimidation factor."
Lopez said energy will be the least of his team's concerns against the Lakers (22-26).
Lakers All-Star Howard is questionable with a shoulder injury. He got the better of Lopez in the teams' Nov. 20 meeting, going for 23 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in the Lakers' 95-90 win. Lopez had 23 points and seven boards.
"For me, personally," Lopez said of facing Howard, with whom he has been linked in trade rumors the last two seasons, "it's a good benchmark."
Notes & quotes:Williams, who twisted his ankle in Friday's win over the Bulls, said he is fine to play Tuesday night, but he was limited in practice. Williams needs seven assists to reach 5,000 for his career . . . Carlesimo said that although the Lakers' offense is "totally different" with Kobe Bryant as a facilitator, "he's still a threat to score 40."