Brook Lopez Struggles Against Dwight Howard, Nets Lose
He left Orlando looking like he was lost.
Dwight Howard just beat him senseless.
Lopez, now in his third NBA season, came into the Nets/Magic matchup averaging a team-high 22.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, itching to measure his improvement against the NBA's two-time defending Defensive Player of Year.
It didn't go well, leaving with a black eye and his confidence battered. More than anyone, he was the reason the Nets lost, 105-90.
"I can't wait to forget about this one,'' he said afterward. "It was rough. He (Howard) got physical with me. His athleticism makes it tough, but a lot of it is on me. I need to play stronger.''
While Howard was dominating the game with 30 points and 16 rebounds, Lopez looked totally intimidated from the start. He was timid. His shots were weak. His moves to the basket had no confidence. And much of it was due to Howard waiting for him.
He finished with 10 points and five rebounds, but even those meager numbers were deceptive. He played considerably worse.
Lopez missed his first 13 shots, finally making a fourth-quarter field goal against backup center Marcin Gortat. He made just three of 17 shots overall. He had five rebounds and five personal fouls.
"It isn't just the young centers Dwight intimidates. It's every center in the league,'' said Magic forward Rashard Lewis. "Guys just don't like facing him. He's too big and too athletic for them.''
Before Amare Stoudemire came to New York this summer, Lopez was vying with Al Horford (Atlanta), Andrew Bogut (Milwaukee) and Joakim Noah (Chicago) for the rights to being the second-best center in the East, which illustrates the gap between the best and second-best center in the conference.
"It's not just him (Lopez), it's everyone in the league who comes into his lane that he intimidates,'' concurred Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. "He intimidates me in practice.''
New Jersey coach Avery Johnson tried to explain away the Lopez disaster Friday as just a bad night against a top-flight opponent, but clearly Howard had beaten him both mentally and physically.
"It's difficult for all 29 teams that he faces,'' Johnson said. "Dwight Howard is a handful for everyone.''
Although Howard was especially sharp Friday, a big factor was the way Lopez plays. His strengths are Howard's strengths. Like Howard, he is a low-post, back-to-the-basket center whose team needs him to score. And that's not going to happen very often against Howard.
"Dwight is just very, very quick, and very, very strong,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "He's probably one of the few guys that Lopez runs up against who's as strong as he is, or stronger. He (Lopez) is a strong guy, but he doesn't get that advantage over Dwight, and Dwight's got such great quickness and gets off his feet. It makes it tough.''
Lopez is likely to have considerably more success Saturday night when the Nets play in Miami. The Heat may have pounded the Magic earlier this season, but they don't have a low post center. Lopez scored 20 points in just 28 minutes against Miami earlier this season.
"It's a long season. This was just one game for him,'' said Nets veteran forward Joe Smith. "Brook will be fine. This was just a tough matchup for him.''
Lopez scored a season-high 29 points against Sacramento. He had a career high five blocks against Charlotte. He had 25 points, nine rebounds and three blocks against Detroit. He was having a great season until he came to Orlando.
"It was another learning experience for him,'' Johnson said.