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Lionel Hollins wants to paint Brook Lopez as tough in middle

Nets center Brook Lopez is defended by forward

Nets center Brook Lopez is defended by forward Mason Plumlee during a scrimmage on the fifth day of training camp in East Rutherford, N.J. on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - During his tenure in Memphis, Lionel Hollins coached a pair of talented big men in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, raising the bar on what he expects from his men in the middle.

Brook Lopez is finding that out. Quickly.

Hollins was getting on Lopez in practice Sunday, telling the Nets' 7-footer to take better care of the ball. Having a traditional center who can score with his back to the basket is a commodity these days, and Hollins wants Lopez to become a better decision-maker in the paint, a place the Nets coach prefers he doesn't stray from often.

It's all a part of Hollins trying to maximize Lopez's potential, something that's at the forefront of a to-do list as Brooklyn gears up for the regular season.

"Making Brook a better basketball player is a priority," Hollins said. "Being tougher, being more aggressive, thinking that every time the play is for him [to score], but also being a guy that's passing the ball to his open teammates. It's not just Brook, it's everybody. When I see a guy has a chance to pass to an open teammate for an easier shot, I try to point that out."

Lopez has worked steadily on improving his jumper over the years, even looking to perfect the bank shot from certain angles. But that refined stroke can cause him to wander away from the paint and he loves firing away from outside eight feet.

Lopez's rebounding numbers also haven't exactly mushroomed over the years. He's hauling in only 7.9 per game. Hollins is challenging Lopez to dominate on the interior in all aspects, not simply settle on making the easy play.

"Just being more aggressive, being tougher, rebounding better. Just being a force in the paint," Hollins said. "When you're 7 feet, weigh 260, I'd like for him to be a force. I'd like all of our big guys to play tougher, more aggressive . . . Be an inside player. If you're an inside player or a big guy, control the paint, play outside last. Don't play outside and never get into the paint."

Deron Williams knows Hollins is trying to drill that into Lopez's head, underscoring the importance of exploiting mismatches on the interior. By putting pressure on the defense around the paint, it typically opens up things for Lopez and everyone else, and that's part of the edict Hollins is preaching.

"I think Brook has got to learn to use his strength, his size to his advantage," Williams said. "I don't think [Hollins] is saying, 'Brook never shoot a jumper,' because that would be taking away something that Brook's really good at. But I think he wants Brook to establish himself as a low-post presence, and I think we as a team need that. That's something we kind of missed last year."

 

Garnett in 'great' shape

When asked about Kevin Garnett's potential workload, Hollins reiterated that the 20th-year pro will be logging a higher total than the career-low 20.5 minutes per game he saw last season.

"I do expect him to play more," Hollins said. "He's been in great shape, mentally he's very sharp, and we'd like to see him contribute more than 18, 20 minutes a game."

Hollins also suggested he doesn't plan on sitting Garnett out in the second game of back-to-backs as Garnett usually did under Jason Kidd last season. But Hollins also said he hasn't given it much thought.

"I don't think about that," Hollins said. "We are going to play. Now if we play a back-to-back, he starts and I play him 10 minutes . . . that could happen. I could play him 30 minutes. That could happen, too. Sitting out games, I don't know. I never have done that except for getting ready for the playoffs."

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