Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez goes to the bench after...

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez goes to the bench after a timeout against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half of an NBA game at Barclays Center on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Brook Lopez was pumping iron in the Nets' weight room before practice nine days ago when his back began to ache.

A simple routine, something he said he does "every day," suddenly had him feeling pain and forced him to get an MRI to diagnose his newest ailment.

In a career loaded with injuries that have kept him off the floor for more than half of the games since the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, it was an all-too-familiar scenario for Lopez.

"It's unfortunate," he said Monday. "It drives me up the wall, drives me crazy. But it happened, so I'm working to get back on the floor."

That first step began Monday, with the Nets announcing that he has started the conditioning portion of his rehab and will be re-evaluated Saturday.

Lopez, who was diagnosed with a strained lower back, did some light running and mostly watched practice. He is expected to miss the next three games and won't be available until Sunday against Detroit.

"It's frustrating, but I've just got to keep going," said Lopez, who has missed 140 games because of injury since 2011. "I want to be out there for my teammates, working to get better and obviously play it safe, make sure I am healed for good so I can be out there for my teammates."

Being sidelined for the last week gave Lopez an opportunity to see how smoothly things are flowing offensively when he's not on the court. The Nets have averaged 23.7 assists in their past four games. Consider: Lopez has 12 assists in 16 games this season.

When he's off the court, the Nets spread the floor, leading to a flurry of assists and more queries about the 7-foot, 275-pound gorilla in the room: Are they actually better off without Lopez?

"We don't have that same post presence when he's not out there," Deron Williams said. "So we are a little more spread out, we run probably a little more pick-and-roll base. So we do play differently when Brook's not out there. We can run a little more, play a little bit faster. But I don't see it being a problem when he comes back [with] us sharing the ball. We've had games when he's out there, we've passed the ball really well."

Lopez seems to understand he'll have to adjust and make sure he's not bogging down the offense. "It's definitely a key," he said. "It's been good for us these last few games and it fits us well because we have lots of guys that can score, shoot the ball, make moves. So we just want to keep our offense pretty diverse in that regard.

"It's been working well," he added, "so I am not going to go in and try to mess anything up."

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