NEW YORK — The Los Angeles Lakers team bus headed down Dean Street to the Barclays Center loading dock, and Brook Lopez watched out the window as they drove past the townhouse where he lived as a Brooklyn Net.
“It was bizarre,” Lopez said.
Lopez will be full of emotion, looking to remind that franchise what it lost when it traded him, as he plays his first game in Brooklyn as a visitor. How much he plays in that game remains a question, as Lopez has been trying his best to adjust to not playing in the fourth quarters of games for the Lakers.
On Wednesday night, during the fourth quarter of an embarrassing 127-105 loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, Lopez covered his face with a towel with the Lakers down 28 at the time. Lopez played a season-low nine minutes in the blowout, none coming after Lakers coach Luke Walton benched his starting five just 1:33 into the third quarter due to lackluster play.
The 7-footer admitted Thursday that he covered his head with a towel to vent and hide his emotions with his frustration over losing and wanting to play. Lopez left the bench shortly after that for a bathroom break but returned quickly and rooted on his teammates from the bench.
“On the court, I can be very visible, with my emotions [showing on my face],” Lopez said. “So, yeah, just trying to control myself, breathe a little bit, and just keep cool because it was an unfortunate game for us. Just watching it, it was tough to be out there. Just trying to get settled a little bit.”
His first four months as a Laker have been unsettling for the center to say the least. Lopez, the highest-paid player on the team with $22.6 million due in the final season of his contract, is averaging just 20.6 minutes this season, 10 minutes below his career average.
The center, who missed eight games earlier this season with a sprained ankle, has not played in the fourth quarter in 16 of his past 18 games and has sat out 25 fourth quarters in games he has played this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Lopez has logged 83 minutes fourth-quarter minutes this season, including just seven in January.
The Nets all-time leading scorer is averaging a career-low 11.6 points and 43.3 percent shooting.
“It’s different for me,” Lopez said of not playing as much this season. “It’s an adjustment. We definitely have a surplus of talent, I think, in the front court. We can go with a lot of different lineups, it’s definitely a blessing. Obviously, everyone can’t be on the floor at the same time. I understand that.”
Walton wants Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr. on the floor in crunch time when teams go small to allow the Lakers to be able to switch defensively at every position. Walton talked to Lopez about his situation as recently as last weekend in Chicago.
“Today’s NBA it is more of a challenge,” Walton said. “Julius is very good at that small-ball switching, which a lot of games turn into in the final five minutes. Larry has been really good this month, as well, with that stuff. So it is not that Brook can’t do it. … But in fourth quarters, Julius is the No. 1-rated defensive big man in the league for however they keep that switching stat and keeping guys in front of him and not letting him score.”
While Lopez has not been the fit that he and the Lakers thought it could be thus far, the center says he has not had any discussions with his agent, Darren Matsubara, about the possibility of a buyout if his playing situation gets worse.
“Obviously, I realize it’s a contract year,” the California native said. “I realize my value — not just monetary value, whether I would like it to be, I’d love it to be, [but] obviously, [Los Angeles is] home for me. I realize I’m in a contract year, but I’m not super concerned about it.”
Lopez said he wants to continue being a mentor to many of the young Lakers on the team. He clearly would love to play more, but he wants to be a good teammate. But he knows he can still be a productive stretch center.
“I feel like I fit in the NBA regardless of [the way NBA teams] are playing,” Lopez said. “I feel like I am a valuable player. … I am confident in my game that I can contribute when I am on the floor.”