All-time leading Nets scorer Brook Lopez makes his return on Friday night to face his former team for the first time at Barclays Center since the June 22 trade that sent him to the Lakers in a deal that brought D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn. Lopez is at an all-time low for his career in scoring and minutes played, while Russell is coming off his best game since returning from a nearly 10-week absence related to undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
Russell scored 22 points in just 16:30 off the bench and added five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot with only one turnover to spark the Nets to a win over Philadelphia on Wednesday. It was just his sixth game since his return.
“Honestly, I’m trying to push my body,” Russell said. “I’m not really focusing on stats or numbers or anything like that. I’m pushing my body to see how I feel and taking what the defense gives me. Every game, that’s my main focus.”
The return of Russell’s dynamic scoring ability gave the Nets the boost they needed to snap a four-game losing streak. Coach Kenny Atkinson said Russell is on a minutes restriction but added that he could have gone back in at the end of the game if needed. However, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored 27 points, took over down the stretch.
Asked if the Nets need his offensive impact to start trending upward, Russell said, “I give credit to a lot of guys who have stepped up over the last few months. Spencer Dinwiddie has been amazing. He’s not getting the credit that he deserves. He’s been leading this team. I feel like he’s done an amazing job of doing that. I’m just trying to follow his lead.”
That underscored how Russell is trying to fit in with his new team. But once he’s at full strength, he figures to share the starting backcourt with Dinwiddie.
By contrast, Lopez, who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.6 minutes, all career lows for a full season, is on the downside. He played just 8:47 in the Lakers’ loss Wednesday in Orlando and sat for all but the first 1:33 of the second half. He has not played in the fourth quarter in 25 of the Lakers’ games.
Lopez sat with a towel over his head and briefly left the bench in the fourth quarter. He declined to speak with reporters after the game. When the Nets visited the Lakers on Nov. 3, Lopez had his best game of the season with 34 points in a 12-point win; Russell scored 17 and shot only 8-for-24 in the loss.
Russell insisted the rematch is more about continued progress in his comeback from injury than any sort of revenge motive.
“I feel like if I was healthier and going into the game with that mentality, it would be different,” Russell said. “But like I said, I’m really focusing on my body and want to be the best I can be with my teammates. I just want to get the win, honestly.”