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Brook Lopez returns to being Nets’ big man in paint

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez blocks a shot

Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez blocks a shot by Charlotte Hornets' Jeremy Lin during the first half of an NBA game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016 at Barclays Center. Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

Let Brook be Brook.

Since taking on the job of Nets interim coach in early January, Tony Brown has stressed a fast-paced, fullcourt-style offense that is in stark contrast with Lionel Hollins’ more conservative approach. The biggest key to Brown’s retooled defense, though, lies firmly under the basket, and he wants to make sure that center Brook Lopez is there to defend the rim, even when guarding against the pick-and-roll, which has a tendency to lure him out.

It’s a work in progress, as evidenced by the way the Nets’ defense struggled against the Hornets in Sunday night’s loss, but the goal is to play to Lopez’s strengths and open up communication with his guards.

“He’s a big guy, not as mobile as some people in the league,” Brown said. “We don’t want him extended out, showing up on the ball, which is going to make it a longer run back into the paint protect our rim and rebound. So a lot [of the new defense] is geared toward trying to keep him in the paint and it puts a lot more onus on our defenders on the ball to either fight over or go under screens] when there’s an opportunity.”

Lopez is a big man in a small-ball era, but Brown stressed that he can’t let trends dictate how his team plays. When you have Lopez, who was averaging a team-high 20.4 points going into Sunday night, “small ball goes out the window,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that can dominate down in the low post. He’s a guy who can demand double-teams.”

Brown says that jibes just fine with the team’s burgeoning offensive persona. “It’s not just post-ups,” he said. “We consciously try to move side to side and, during that process, if Brook is on the move in the paint area, we like for him to catch it . . . not just taking it up and throwing it into him now. It’s more movement.”

Bargnani wanted out

Brown said that Andrea Bargnani “expressed interest to move on,” thus sparking the waiver process and the buyout of his contract. The Nets requested waivers on the 7-footer Saturday, opening a roster spot and freeing Bargnani before the March 1 deadline for playoff eligibility.

Brown said he’s not sure how the Nets will handle the open spot and added that it will be up to new general manager Sean Marks “to answer those questions.” Brown added: “I think it works out for both sides. I wish him nothing but the best . . . I like Andrea. He was very professional while he was here and it’s just unfortunate that the season has kind of gone the way it has.”

Rough road ahead

Don’t expect things to get easier. Beginning Tuesday in Portland, the Nets will embark on a nine-game road trip with the majority of the games on the West Coast — a brutal stretch that will keep them away from Barclays until March 13. “It’s part of our league,” Brown said. “It’s a long trip, but this is an opportunity to play some quality teams and see how our new style holds up.”

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