Brook Lopez pulls down a defensive rebound during a game...

Brook Lopez pulls down a defensive rebound during a game against the Denver Nuggets. (Feb. 13, 2013) Credit: David Pokress

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Reggie Evans typically is the one hurling the playful verbal barbs, tossing jabs at anyone within his path.

But things were a little different Wednesday, the day the Nets prepared to wrap up their regular season against the Pistons before opening their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at home against the Bulls. Evans was subjected to non-stop ridicule -- all because Brook Lopez beat him to the arena.

"He came like 3 1/2 hours early," Evans said after practice Thursday as the Nets began preparing for Saturday's series opener against Chicago. "As soon as I walk in, everybody wants to kill me. Like, 'Oh, Brook beat you.' I'm like, C'mon, man. Brook is 3 1/2 hours early. C'mon, man. So I'm like, 'You know what? Brook wins this one.' "

Lopez is that eager to put in work nowadays, and as the Nets' fifth-year center gets set for his first playoff series as a pro, he's hoping to continue an All-Star season and further cement himself into the conversation permanently when it comes to discussing the NBA's top centers.

Lopez has waited for the chance to finally get a crack at the postseason, and after four losing seasons, his wish is about to come true.

Bring on Joakim Noah.

"I'm very anxious," Lopez said. "I think it's akin to playing our first game in Brooklyn at the beginning of the year. I think the electricity is going to be very high, and it's going to be an exciting environment."

Lopez, who scored 19.4 points and blocked 2.1 shots per game this season, has morphed into more of an all-around player, particularly on the interior. Evans has taken him under his wing and tried to instill a hard-nosed, early-bird work ethic in Lopez, and it's translated into some serious success.

Whether it's in the weight room or on the practice court doing drills, Lopez shadows Evans. He seems to be enjoying it, doing what he can to incorporate Evans' regimen into his own daily routine.

"Just trying to imitate him a little bit," Lopez said.

About the only real knock on Lopez has been his ability to consistently wipe the glass clean. He's averaging only 6.9 rebounds per game, but as rebounding machine Evans put it sheepishly: "He's got me to worry about."

Still, Deron Williams has noticed the difference in Lopez, believing he's motivated by a boulder on his shoulder stemming from the non-stop Dwight Howard trade talk that lasted deep into this past summer.

"He's gotten a lot better the last two years," Williams said. "I think last year was tough on him and made him even tougher. He came back really aggressive and out to prove people wrong. All the trade rumors that went on, injuries, all that stuff got to him a little bit. Even though he didn't show it, he did a great job of hiding that stuff. But as a person, it eats you up."

Now he's ready to feast on the competition, and Evans is supremely confident that Lopez is primed for what lies ahead.

"Hell, yeah," he said. "Man, look at Brook. Brook is probably, what, a top-two big man? Brook is a whole different person right now, and that's in a good way. Can't nobody stop him. Only person that can stop Brook is Brook. That's it. Brook is a beast right now. Brook is on a mission, so it's great to be playing beside him. He's my least concern in terms of being ready."

That's also the way coach P.J. Carlesimo feels. He's not fretting about Lopez and how he'll handle his first playoff action, even if it's coming against the likes of Noah.

"I'm more concerned with turnovers than I am with Brook," he said. "Brook's going to play well."

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