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Deron Williams #8 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against Larry Sanders #8 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the game at the Barclays Center on December 9, 2012  in Brooklyn, New York. Deron Williams and the Nets have struggled sans Brook Lopez.

The Nets Need Brook Lopez Back

Avery Johnson tried something new to start the Nets' game against the Bucks last night, benching Kris Humphries and setting Reggie Evans's tornadic stylings loose with the first unit. It seemed to work at first, as Brooklyn opened the game on an 11-2 run, but things fell off pretty rapidly. Brooklyn's defense unraveled and their offense looked — as it has recently — sticky and disjointed, a sharp contrast to the whirring ball movement we saw earlier in the season. Their late-game run couldn't undo the huge deficit amassed in the first three quarters, and they've now lost four straight, three of those in front of a Barlays Center crowd that's seizing its first opportunities to boo en masse.

The common thread running through the four straight defeats is, of course, the absence of Brook Lopez, whose foot injury was less terrifying than some feared, but enough to shelve him for over a week. The subtraction helps one realize how important a point-producer and gravitational force Lopez's presence is, and our friend Devin Kharpertian provided ample evidence that Brooklyn's defense suffers without him as well.

The good news: Lopez practiced in full on Monday and is listed as a game-time decision for the Nets' homestand-closing rematch with the Knicks. They'll see how Lopez recovers from the first day back on the floor and, in all likelihood, suit him up in search of a win that could overshadow a lot of the bad feelings generated during this discouraging slide.

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Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE