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Return of Lopez Could be Spark Deron's Nets Need

 

by Jordan Garretson, February 17, 2012

Deron Williams is doing about all that he can and at times lately it's felt to him like that isn't even enough.

But a bit of big news about a New Jersey big man on the mend could mean brightness on the horizon for D-Will and the Nets.

Deron Williams and Brook Lopez haven't played together since preseason (Getty Images).

Before Thursday's game with the Indiana Pacers, New Jersey center Brook Lopez was on the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse getting shots up. Lopez reported that he felt good and his return appears imminent. It would be a shot in the arm for the scuffling Nets, as Lopez will not only add production in the paint, but his return should also make things easier for Deron, as he told The Record:

"We've needed Brook all year," D-Will said. "That changes everything. That changes our team just him being out there. It takes the pressure off me … it opens things up."

Deron scored a team-high 29 points Thursday night, his fifth game this season with at least that many. But the current Nets just didn't have enough firepower to earn a victory over the Indiana Pacers, falling for the eighth straight time, 93-88. 

D-Will — accustomed to winning throughout his career — admitted the Nets' season has been difficult, but expressed optimism as he talked to The New York Post after the loss:

"It's been a tough year. It's been the toughest year of my career," Deron said. "Hopefully, we'll turn things around. Hopefully we'll have Brook coming back soon. We've got to get MarShon [Brooks] going a little bit. He's a little rusty and that'll come. We've just got to win, really. Once you get a win, it just kind of takes that pressure off."

The Nets started the game well, and No. 8 spearheaded the effort. D-Will scored nine of his 29 in the opening quarter, propelling New Jersey to a 29-21 advantage at the end of the first. The Pacers struck back to tie it at halftime, 50-50, despite eight in the second from D-Will.

After a low scoring third, from which New Jersey emerged with a 65-64 lead, Indiana seized control in the fourth. They took the lead with 10:17 to go and after going up by two with 8:15 remaining the Pacers led the rest of the way.

Deron scored 12 of his 29 in that final quarter, making four of his eight shots. The rest of the team managed just 5-of-13 and the ball stopped moving, as the Nets had just one assist in the final 12 minutes.

In addition to his 29 points, D-Will also finished the game with six rebounds and four assists. However, New Jersey's 19 turnovers ultimately gave the Pacers too many opportunities to distance themselves, and Indiana took advantage. The Nets also had no answer for Danny Granger, who scored 16 in each half to carry the Pacers.

Despite yet another loss, D-Will and the Nets left Indiana with a never quit attitude. Deron is adamant that with a healthy roster, New Jersey can be vastly improved, as he told The Star-Ledger:

"We can't just stay down," he explained. "We've done that. I've done that. I don't want to go back to that place where I'm just depressed all the time. Just go to the next (game). We played tough. We played hard. We liked our effort tonight. We're still down guys. We haven't had our full team all year."

That could be changing soon and having Lopez on the mend is one of the biggest reasons for optimism from the Nets right now. New Jersey has been without the center's services all season, a devastating blow considering the team's other injuries — and even moreso when taking into account the missed production. Lopez averaged 20.4 points and six rebounds per game last season.

Lopez is almost fully recovered from a broken right foot and if it were up to the fourth-year center, he'd be playing on Saturday in Chicago, he told The Record:

"I feel like I could play," Lopez said. "I've been sitting out the whole season, storing it in a tank, I'm ready to go [play three in a row]. I feel like I've got the energy to get through it. The adrenaline, hopefully, would help me."

No one welcomes Lopez's return more than D-Will. With the Nets missing their second-best scoring threat, opposing defenses have been able to key in against Deron with extra attention. Lopez's absence has been particularly noticeable in the Nets' current run of eight straight losses. But once Brook comes back, No. 8 expects that to change.

"It's going to be a different team," he told the Star-Ledger recently. "It definitely is encouraging because we need him in the worst way. It changes the dynamic of this team, gives us the inside presence, something that we haven't had through 30 games."

CHAMPAIGN MEMORIES

Deron and the Nets departed Indiana on Thursday for Chicago where they will be playing the Bulls on Saturday.

Deron has fond memories of Illinois.Anytime D-Will returns to the state of Illinois, memories of his college time spent in Champaign with the Fighting Illini certainly follow.

Deron reflected on those days recently in an interview with ESPN Chicago's Melissa Isaacson:

"We were such a great team, and once we all left --- myself, James (Augustine), Luther (Head), (Roger Powell), Dee (Brown, after the following season), it was rebuilding time," D-Will said. "I didn't care if I scored 30 points and had 12 assists, I just wanted to win. Dee, James, Roger, Luther, all the way down the line, we just bought into the system and philosophy."

D-Will, who was recruited to Illinois by then coach Bill Self, but played his final two seasons under current coach Bruce Weber, said he still speaks often to Weber and watches Illini games whenever he can. Illinois is struggling this season, but Deron said he hopes that doesn't force them to cut ties with Weber.

"He's in a tough situation," Deron said. "I'd be very disappointed [if Weber were fired]. That's my coach, and it would be hard for me. I would still support the program, but it would be hard."

To read Issacson's entire story on D-Will and the Illini, click here.

NEXT UP

New Jersey's difficult stretch of games doesn't ease up at all following Thursday's defeat by the Pacers. After playing the Bulls on Saturday in Chicago, the Nets travel right back home to host the Bucks on Sunday.

Saturday's matinee in Chicago tips off at 4 EST while Sunday's home game against the Bucks starts at 7 EST. Both games can be seen on YES.

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