With the NBA trade deadline looming a week from Thursday, Brook Lopez showed up for work knowing his long tenure with the Nets might be nearing its end. But the big center did all in his power to help the NBA’s worst team reach the All-Star break on a positive note scoring a season-high 36 points and tying his career high with eight blocked shots.
Despite his efforts, it was another disappointing ending for the Nets, whose furious fourth-quarter comeback trimmed a 13-point deficit to two but ultimately fell short in a 129-125 loss to the Bucks Wednesday night at Barclays Center. It was the 14th straight loss overall for the Nets and extended their franchise record for consecutive home losses to 16.
The Nets trailed by 13 points starting the final period and were down 12 midway through the quarter when they put together a 14-4 run that included threes by Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Lopez, whose basket cut the Bucks’ lead to 117-115 with 2:59 to play. But the Nets couldn’t get the stop they needed as the Bucks scored on their final six possessions for the win.
“We had bouts of not taking care of the ball,” said coach Kenny Atkinson, referring to 17 Nets turnovers that led to 24 Bucks points. “It’s our Achilles’ heel right now. That hurt us, and we couldn’t get stops. [The Bucks had] 68 points in the paint. They’re a physical, athletic team. They’re like a herd coming at you, and it’s forceful. We didn’t bring our physicality.”
Lopez made six of 10 attempts from three-point range, but his final, desperate shot with six seconds left bounded off the rim. He got great help down the stretch from Spencer Dinwiddie (19 points, eight assists) and Trevor Booker (18 points), and Joe Harris and Bojan Bogdanovic each added 14 points for the Nets (9-47).
All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks (25-30) with 33 points and nine rebounds, and they got a boost off the bench from Greg Monroe (25 points, eight rebounds) and Khris Middleton (20 points, seven assists).
Lopez often has been on the hot seat at the NBA trade deadline, but this season feels different because he’s the one major asset the new regime of general manager Sean Marks and Atkinson have that might get the draft picks they need to rebuild. According to multiple reports, the Nets are holding firm on their demand for two first-round picks, so Lopez might survive again, at least to the NBA draft in June.
Before the game, Atkinson praised Lopez for buying into the new program, and maintaining a positive demeanor through it all. The coach reinforced that after the game, saying, “I thought Brook was a monster,” Atkinson said. “That’s impressive — his spirit and his attitude and how he approaches every day, considering the situation. He deserves applause from his teammates and his coaches tonight.”
Lopez is the Nets’ only proven go-to guy, and they went to him plenty in the early going. He scored 22 first-half points, including 10 in a 23-11 run that tied the game at 60 just before halftime. The Bucks finished the third period on an 18-7 run for a 95-82 cushion heading to the fourth quarter, but the Nets kept fighting as Dinwiddie had 15 fourth-quarter points, Harris scored 11 and Lopez added seven.
“I just wanted to go out on the All-Star break in the right mindset,” Lopez said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win as a team, but I thought we played very well together . . . We gave ourselves a shot right to the very end, and there’s something to be said for that.”
Asked how difficult this season has been for him with all the losing and trade speculation swirling, Lopez said, “I look forward to playing with these guys every day. It’s a great group of guys. I love being out on the floor and fighting. I know we’re going to break through . . . We need the fans to support us, and we’re all going to grow together.”