In a new city and now with a new coach, Brook Lopez and the Brooklyn Nets have found balance and confidence the franchise hasn't had for years.
The big man in the middle has been quite the complement to their sharp-shooting backcourt, even if he's hesitant to admit it.
Lopez strengthened his case for a spot on the All-Star team with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting, helping the Nets hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 91-83 Wednesday night to improve to 12-2 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
"We just have a number of great guys who are very talented individually, and we're just playing well together," Lopez said. "That's the best part."
The All-Star reserves will be announced Thursday.
"You know I never watch any of that stuff. I'll probably be sitting in my room with the lights turned off, doing nothing," Lopez said, smiling.
When the lights are on, the Nets are 9-1 with their lineup of Lopez, the NBA's highest-scoring center, perennial All-Star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans at the forward spots. Williams and Johnson scored 18 points apiece, and the Nets never trailed despite some sloppy stretches of play.
C.J. Watson added 14 points for the Nets, who won for the first time in their last nine games at Minnesota.
"We're grateful for the win, but hopefully we realize we need to play a little more consistently than we did tonight," said Carlesimo, who took over last month when Avery Johnson was fired.
Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points and Dante Cunningham added 14 for the Wolves, who played without shooting guard Alexey Shved (left ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (right quadriceps) for the third straight game. That's not to mention the four others out with longer-term injuries, a troubling list led by Kevin Love.
"Any time you play a team like this, all we talk about is they're dangerous," Williams said. "They've got a couple guys out, but these other guys are hungry. They want the minutes. They relish the minutes."
Including guard Ricky Rubio, who was visibly upset on the bench at the end of the game. On a strict limit of 28 minutes per game in his return from reconstructive left knee surgery, Rubio checked in around the 4-minute mark but was called back to the bench when acting coach Terry Porter decided to keep J.J. Barea in the game.
"I didn't like it, but he did what he thinks is best for the team," said Rubio, who had six assists and three steals in 24 minutes but only five points. "I want to know what happened. We're going to talk."
With Rubio guarding Williams and Luke Ridnour on Johnson, the Nets as they often do had mostly favorable matchups in the backcourt. But whether it was bad passes that sailed out of bounds, a willingness to settle too often for long jump shots or scrappy defense by the Wolves, the Nets never put the game away.
They even took a 66-52 lead shortly after halftime, only to let Ridnour lead the Wolves back within two points again, burning the Nets often with backdoor cuts or fast breaks off their careless turnovers.
"The fact that they made a run and we withstood it and still held 'em off on their home floor means a lot," said Johnson, who went nearly 24½ minutes without scoring until a flurry late in the third quarter.
Watson picked up where Johnson left off, playing a game of "Around the World" at Barea's expense early in the fourth with nine straight points for the Nets.
Fresh from an important win over the crosstown rival Knicks that moved them within one game of the Atlantic Division lead, the Nets needed to avoid the natural letdown against a reeling, injury-ravaged opponent. For all their effort to make this a game, the Wolves were just too short-handed to gain control after falling behind 14-2 from the opening tip.
The Wolves fell to 3-9 in January, 2-8 since Love re-injured his right hand. They attempted only six free throws, their fewest in almost six years. One bright spot was Chris Johnson, signed on Saturday to a 10-day contract from the D-League. He played all 12 minutes in the second quarter and had 10 points during that stretch.
"It's hard for us to finish games. We just have to want to win," Rubio said. "Sometimes it seems like we don't want to win."
Notes: Carlesimo was asked what the ceiling is for Lopez, who entering the night was the only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. "I don't know, and I think that's a good thing," Carlesimo said. ... Ridnour has scored in double digits in 10 of his last 11 games. He's the only Wolves player to start every game this season. ... Rubio is 0 for 11 from 3-point range this season. The Wolves are the only NBA team with a 3-point percentage worse than 30.
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