As the saying goes, “You don’t what you have until it’s gone.” The quote rings true with the Nets organization right now.
Brook Lopez spent much of his existence in New Jersey undervalued, if not by the team than certainly by the national media. If the Nets did not realize what the 7-footer meant to them before he broke his right foot, they do now.
In the two games Lopez has missed, the Nets have fallen behind by 21 or more points. They managed to overcome that deficit against the Washington Wizards, but they were not successful against the battle-tested Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks disposed of the Nets, running roughsod over them in a game that was most competitive during Bernie Williams’ rendition of the national anthem.
The season is certainly young, but Avery Johnson’s team lost a big part of its offensive gameplan.
“We all know what the real deal is, we don’t have a post-up game,” Johnson said. “I think his post-up game went kind of under-appreciated at times.”
Lopez is the only player on the roster capable of posting up underneath the basket. Johan Petro is a pick-and-pop center. Mehmet Okur prefers his shots a little further away than that.
Even Kris Humphries is most comfortable firing a mid-range jumper when he is not cleaning up on the glass.
The lack of an inside presence is not lost through the first two games. The Nets averaged just 80 points in their 1-1 start.
Through two games, that is good for worst in the league.
Lopez endured endless criticism last season for his absence on the boards, but he eluded praise for his offensive presence. Even in what was perceived as a down year in 2010-11, Lopez averaged 20.4 ppg. He is a career 17.4 ppg scorer.
Last April, Lopez poured in a career-high 39 points against the Detroit Pistons.
That is a substantial amount of offense to try and replace.
The Nets are diplomatic, living by the phrase, “No excuses.” But when an NBA team shoots 35.7 percent in two games, somethis must be amiss.
“(Lopez’s injury) puts a lot (of pressure) on not only myself but the entire team,” said Anthony Morrow, who is shooting 29.4 percent through the first two games. Morrow is a career 46.3 percent shooter. “Just having a guy like that down low being able to score, like we said not making any excuses, just praying that Brook has a speedy recovery and comes back 100 percent.”
Unfortunately for the Nets, Lopez will not be back for Thursday night’s matchup with the Orlando Magic.
The Nets offseason will come full circle as they travel into the lion’s den to face Dwight Howard and the rest of the Magic. Howard was Billy King’s prized possession, and Lopez was the blue chip that was going to be used to obtain him.
How will the Nets manage to slow down Howard, who has become increasingly non-committal to his offseason demand of a trade to New Jersey?
Maybe the Orlando big man will realize the grass is not always greener on the other side.
For now, the Nets need to band together because without Lopez, the offensive struggle might get worse before it gets better.