Brook Lopez struggles as Nets fall apart down stretch in 98-91 loss to Timberwolves

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Brook Lopez, 10 points and five rebounds, fouls Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic in the fourth.

If this were a prison yard, Brook Lopez took a beating. That was the analogy used by Nets coach Lionel Hollins, who didn’t mince words after his center was outworked and outmuscled by Nikola Pekovic during an implosive defeat to the Timberwolves, 98-91, Wednesday night.

“Well, the guy whipped him,” Hollins said. “I mean, it happens. You’ve got to give Pekovic credit. He was a man out there, and I’m always saying that there’s always a badder man than you in the prison.”

The numbers weren’t pretty for Lopez, who finished with 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting and five rebounds in his second game back from a foot sprain. But it was worse than that. The game’s turning point was a missed open runner with four minutes remaining from Lopez, who opted against taking it up strong and pulled up in the paint. With 48 seconds remaining, Lopez committed an admitted “dumb foul” on Ricky Rubio, getting whistled for an illegal screen when the Nets were trailing by three points.

On the previous possession, Pekovic posted up Lopez for an and-1. “That was the plan,” Pekovic, who scored seven of his 16 points in the final seven minutes, said about going after Lopez. “That’s what coach said I should do.”

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Deron Williams has 19 points and six assists in Net loss to Timberwolves.

Lopez, standing despondently in front of his locker, shouldered the blame for the Nets falling to 2-2. He has a reputation for not playing to his size or being too soft, and Wednesday’s performance rekindled some of those memories in just his second game since December. “I wasn’t playing defense. It was not what (Pekovic) was doing, it was what I wasn’t doing,” he said. “I wasn’t being my normal self. It’s not the way it should be. It’s definitely motivation. I know that’s not the player I am.”

Still, the loss took a group effort. The Nets were given every opportunity to win this game, even after their stumble at the very beginning and a 15-point deficit, even after a turnover-plagued third quarter.

With nine minutes remaining, Mirza Teletovic’s three-pointer gave Nets a one-point lead. Deron Williams followed with a trey, and Brooklyn looked like it had control until it suffered a meltdown that included two turnovers in the final 64 seconds and seven misses in the final nine field-goal attempts.

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Nets coach Lionel Hollins looks on near the bench.

Joe Johnson led Brooklyn with 22 points, but committed a turnover when Thaddeus Young snatched the ball off his dribble with 1:04 left in a tie game. He also missed two shots in the final 23 seconds.

Williams (19 points, six assists) played well for the Nets, but stumbled down the stretch while missing seven of his final eight shots.

Kevin Martin scored 26 for the T-Wolves (2-2). “First off, it’s not a one-on-one game. The onus is on all of us,” Kevin Garnett, who scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, said in defense of Lopez. “In this league, I’ve seen countless people get on fire, and it’s usually the guy you’re guarding. It’s not just on Brook, it’s on everybody. Pekovic had a great game and he’s a load down there.”

Next up for Brooklyn is the Knicks, and a chance for Lopez to bounce back against the likes of Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire on Friday. It should be a nice change of pace from Pekovic’s prison yard. “After (Wednesday night), we’d have juice against whoever we were playing,” Lopez said. “I know I want to get out there.”

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