Lakers vs. Nets preview: Have both teams turned the corner?


L.A. and Brooklyn have already crammed a year's worth of drama into the first few months of the season. For now, at least, both appear on firmer footing.

Tuesday night's game was supposed to be Dwight Howard's return to Brooklyn, but even if the enigmatic center remains sidelined with a shoulder injury, there will still be plenty of intriguing storylines at the Barclays Center.

Neither the Lakers nor the Nets have the same coach they had on Opening Night, as Mike Brown and Avery Johnson became the victims of the outsized expectations surrounding two of the most high-profile franchises in the NBA.

Brooklyn has found new life under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who has put Deron Williams in his comfort zone by opening up the offense. After stumbling around the .500 mark with Avery, the Nets are now 28-19 and are right back in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

It's been a rougher going for Mike D'Antoni, whose clashed with seemingly all of the high-priced stars in the Lakers roster over the last few months. However, even with Howard in and out of the line-up, they seem to have found a winning formula by switching roles in the back-court, with Kobe Bryant serving as the facilitator and Steve Nash as the scorer.

L.A. is still living dangerously, including a 98-97 win over Detroit on Sunday, but they've won 5 of their last 6 games with Kobe averaging more than 10 assists a night in that span.

Battle Of The Big Men

Regardless of Howard's situation, most of the attention will be focused on the center position.

Brook Lopez, whom the Nets dangled in trade talks for Howard for most of the last year, has had his best season as a pro, averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks on 53/0/74 shooting. He's become the key to the Brooklyn offense, but he'll have a tough test against either Howard or Pau Gasol.

Nets Daily, SB Nation's Nets blog, has a look at how Lopez improved in the off-season.

Gasol has become the forgotten man in L.A., as there may not be room for both him and Howard in D'Antoni's four-out scheme. However, at the age of 32, he should still have plenty of basketball left in him, while Howard's absence would give him the chance to play closer to the rim on Tuesday.

Over at Silver Screen And Roll, SB Nation's Lakers blog, they have more from a fascinating interview with Pau where he questioned his future with the franchise.

Over the last few years, the NBA has been moving away from post-centered offense, but the match-up between Lopez and Gasol would be a return to the 90's, featuring two of the only remaining low-post scorers in the league.

The Nets are favored by -2.5 points in a 7:30 p.m. ET game that will be broadcast nationally on NBATV.

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