EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Brook Lopez returned to the starting lineup Tuesday and scored 29 points to lead the Nets to their most impressive victory of the season, 96-82, over the Bulls in Chicago.
His reward for that performance? He'll be back on the bench for tonight's game against the Magic in Orlando.
"I thought Brook played extremely well and he's going to be a big factor in what we do,'' coach Lionel Hollins said after practice yesterday. "I just like the other lineup.''
The "other lineup'' has Mason Plumlee starting at center and Kevin Garnett at power forward. It also has Jarrett Jack starting at point guard and Deron Williams coming off the bench. It's a look the Nets have used in five of the past six games -- Garnett sat out against Chicago because it was the second game of a back-to-back -- and the team has won five of six to get within a game of .500 (15-16).
"The last six games, I think we've started to come together,'' Hollins said. "Before that, we've started to come together as a team, but I think the last six games, minus the Indiana game [a 110-85 loss Dec. 27], I thought our defense has been better, our effort has been better, our togetherness has been better.''
Lopez and Williams insisted they are not bothered by Hollins' decision not to return them to the starting lineup.
"I've never really been a guy that has an ego as far as I'm better than the team,'' Williams said. "Whatever he wants me to do, I'm a team player, so I'm going to do it. Do I want to play more? Yeah, of course. I'm a competitor. But coming off the bench [or] starting, it don't matter.''
"We have more than five starters, so it's no big deal,'' Lopez said. "We have lots of guys that are great players, can play the game and are 'starter- quality' players.''
Hollins said he isn't worried about bruising the egos of Williams and Lopez, a pair of former All-Stars who will earn a combined $35.4 million this season.
"You have a lot of guys that come off the bench and play because you have to balance your team,'' Hollins said. "It's not just about status. It's not just about money. It's not about All-Star appearances and all that. It's about how best can a coach fit the team to be successful.''
Notes & quotes: Lopez, who recently said he wants to be an extra in the new "Star Wars'' trilogy, said he has a friend on the movie's set who will help him in his efforts.