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Brook Lopez on a nice roll for Nets

Brook Lopez celebrates a fourth quarter basket against

Brook Lopez celebrates a fourth quarter basket against the Boston Celtics. (Nov. 15, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Brook Lopez has strung together three solid performances in the past week, capping his strong run with a 24-point outing against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics on Thursday.

The Nets center is pleased to be heading into the team's three-game, four-day California road trip on a good roll, considering what awaits Lopez and the Nets' frontcourt starting Sunday night in Sacramento.

The Kings are a Western Conference-worst 2-7 and have lost four straight, but they are second in the NBA in points in the paint (46.4 per game) with DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson inside.

Then, on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Lopez will face off against Dwight Howard, who very badly wanted to play the role that Lopez does with the Nets before finally landing in L.A.

"It's going to be great for our frontcourt -- me, Humph [Kris Humphries], Reggie [Evans], [Andray] Blatche. This is the kind of stuff we really look forward to," Lopez said after the Nets practiced at Barclays Center on Saturday morning and before they flew to Sacramento. "We've been working on really strengthening our frontcourt through communication, especially on the defensive end. These two games will be really good for us."

After a shaky stretch of three games in which Lopez scored only 13, eight and 14 points (and the Nets went 1-2), he has started strong and asserted himself at both ends, with help from Humphries' strong rebounding and the energy off the bench from Evans and Blatche.

This has been the best run for Lopez in a long while. He's already surpassed his games-played total from 2011-12, when he suffered foot and ankle injuries, and overcome a bizarre summer in which Howard openly pleaded for a deal to come to Brooklyn. Lopez, a restricted free agent, wound up agreeing to a four-year, $60-million deal in July.

This past week's run is a good sign that Lopez is beginning to put the instability of the past year behind him.

"He's so much more mentally tougher and physically stronger," Avery Johnson said. "When you add mental and physical toughness in his own way and you mature like that, you tend to go to another level. When we first got Brook, he was basically 21 going on 20. Now he's 24 going on 25, 26 -- that's the beauty of it all."

Notes & quotes: Forward Gerald Wallace (ankle) practiced Saturday, but Johnson still sounded unsure whether his starting small forward will return to the lineup in Sacramento. "We've got a 51/2-hour-or-so plane ride, he's gonna get treated tonight in the hotel, he's going to get treatment in the morning and then we'll see how he feels," Johnson said. Wallace has missed all but one game this season.

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