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Brook Lopez returns to Brooklyn as Nets host Lakers

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Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Home is where the wins are. After a rough go of it away from the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets returned home to face a tough Philadelphia 76ers team. The Nets had one of their best performances in a while and came away with a great win on Wednesday night. The win snapped their four-game losing streak and got them their first divisional win of the season.

The opponent tonight will be the Los Angeles Lakers. But more significantly, it is the return of Brook Lopez, the Nets legend, the franchise’s leading scorer, and a much beloved figure in Brooklyn, and before that, in New Jersey. Through losses, disappointment, and a raft of injuries to his foot, Lopez was the Nets’ rock.

It's been a rocky season for him and the purple-and-gold and their franchise-record playoff drought will continue this spring. They're smarting after suffering a 22-point beatdown at the hands of the lowly Orlando Magic Wednesday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30pm.

Injuries

Caris Levert and Rondae Hollis Jefferson have been hampered by injuries all week. Levert is probable while RHJ is out. Isaiah Whitehead is back with the Long Island Nets after playing well in limited minutes for the big club.

Jeremy Lin, who’s been rehabbing his knee in Burnaby, British Columbia, arrived back in Brooklyn Thursday and will sit with his teammates on the bench for the next three games, tonight vs. L.A., Sunday vs. Milwaukee and Tuesday vs. Houston.

Lonzo Ball has been dealing with a knee injury and won't play tonight.

The game

L.A. won the first meeting back in November.

Everything the Lakers have been doing over the past couple of years will come to a head this summer. With players like LeBron James and Paul George set to hit the free agent market, L.A. needs to land one of them. If they don't, all the losing and roster construction they've been doing will have been for nothing. Talk about pressure.

In the meantime, they have to figure out which players they want to keep around. Jordan Clarkson has been terrific as of late, and there were reports the Cleveland Cavaliers inquired about his availability. The Dallas Mavericks were looking into Julius Randle 's availability as well. Those two are solid rotation players so if Rob Pelinka and Laker management trade them, they have to get something good back in return.

Former Laker, D'Angelo Russell, appears to be back to form. DLo has struggled since coming back from injury, but looked outstanding against Philly. In 16 minutes, Russell scored 22 points and took over the game for extended stretches. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will get a chance to guard Russell. KCP was expected to bring solid defense and three-point shooting to L.A., but that hasn't been the case. At least he gets to leave the state of California again, so he's got that going for him.

As for Kyle Kuzma, the players taken with the Nets pick included in the big deal, he’s hit a bit of a wall. After going off for 28 against the Celtics a week ago, the 6’9” power forward has averaged nine points in the past three games.

Player to watch: Brook Lopez

Something interesting happened to the big guy on Wednesday. He only played 8:47 and left the bench in the fourth quarter after he became visibly frustrated when Luke Walton didn't sub him into the game. I came across this observation from Tania Ganguli of the LA Times, and it's a bit shocking:

He’s still starting games for the Lakers, but he almost never finishes them. In 16 of the last 18 games, Lopez hasn’t played at all in the fourth quarter. He’s missed the fourth quarter of half of the Lakers’ games this year entirely.

Lopez is still a good player, and it's Walton's job to figure out how to make the most out of his talents. Things are so bad that Tim Bontemps believes Lopez could be angling for a buyout so he can join a contender.

Coming at the same time that DLo is on the rise, the game could be an inflection point. As Greg Logan notes in Newsday...

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.

Let’s not forget that Russell has a debt to pay to L.A.

But the night should be a festive one for Lopez. Brook was a great Net and provided fans with solid play and fun moments. The crowd should give him a really nice ovation and I’m expecting the Nets will have a video tribute ready for him as well.

They better.

Jarrett Allen will get the first crack at guarding Lopez. Allen has been starting all week, and he's taken nicely to his new role. He had some trouble with Joel Embiid (who doesn't?), but played great on offense and on the boards. I would think L.A. would try to force feed Lopez in the post as he has a big size advantage over Allen, but who knows with them at this point.

From the Vault

Let’s revisit one of Brook’s best moments as a Net. Brook now and forever.

More reading: Silver Screen and Roll