CHICAGO — It was a great story line – Brook Lopez facing off against twin brother Robin Wednesday night at United Center with the opportunity to possibly knock the Bulls out of a tie for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference.
Until it wasn’t.
The Nets announced Tuesday night their intention to rest Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker, all of whom are healthy enough to play, in the season finale. No explanation was given by the organization, but the apparent intention is to make sure Lopez and Lin, in particular, go into the offseason healthy. Booker was rested in two of the previous three games.
After passing Buck Williams to become the Nets’ career franchise scoring leader with 10,444 points Monday night in Boston, Lopez had sounded excited to face his brother with the chance to play spoiler.
“Ruin Robin’s season?” Lopez said with a puckish grin. “It’s like a dream.”
The Bulls are tied with the Heat for eighth but own the tiebreaker. Told that a Heat beat writer suggested on Twitter that Brook might sit out rather than deny his twin a playoff spot, Lopez scoffed.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Lopez chirped. “Absolutely not. That’s not in our genetic makeup at all to cheat.”
No doubt, members of the Heat, who finish at home against the Southeast Division champion Wizards, will have questions about how the Nets’ decision impacts the integrity of the game. Of course, it also must be noted the Nets defeated the Bulls on Saturday in their home finale at Barclays Center to drop them into a tie with the Heat.
After losing to the Celtics, Lopez spoke about the benefits for the 20-61 Nets to experience a playoff-like environment in a season-ending game. Now, a game that offered an opportunity for the Nets to put a cherry on the top of a late-season turnaround that has seen them go 11-12 over their past 23 games seems anticlimactic.
Still, after missing 45 games with injuries, Lin’s return and the chemistry he generated with Lopez certainly has generated hope and enthusiasm throughout the organization.
“Once I got here, I was even more impressed with how skilled he is and how versatile he is,” Lin said of Lopez. “And then the one thing that really surprised me is how hard he works. Even if you just get him talking about wanting to win, or talking about the organization, he gets really amped-up, juiced. He kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve. Whenever you talk about basketball, his eyes light up. He loves the game, and that’s what I didn’t know from the outside looking in.”
Lopez essentially was asked to re-invent himself by coach Kenny Atkinson as a big man capable of spreading the floor by taking and making three-point shots, and he has been critical to the growth that has taken place. The coach admitted his concern about Lopez’s ability to adapt to fit the organizational template. But it now seems as if Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks view Lopez as a valuable part of the future.
“It’s great information for us, knowing he can do it because we weren’t sure in the beginning,” Atkinson admitted. “We experimented right off the bat. It worked for him, and it worked for us. It says he fits the style we want to play.”
Obviously, the Nets have seen enough of Lopez and Lin together to answer whatever questions they had.