DENVER – Luke Walton watched as Brook Lopez threw up his arms in frustration, shook his head and barked at his shoes. As the coach of an impressionable young team, Walton felt compelled to say something to one of his few veteran leaders.
“You, as someone who can set an example,” Walton said he told Lopez, “we need to keep our body language up and positive no matter what’s going on out there.”
For Lopez, considered one of the NBA’s good guys, that has become increasingly difficult in what has been a season unlike the previous nine of his career, which were all spent with the Nets.
He is playing a career-low 23.2 minutes per game – this after averaging at least 30 minutes over the course of six different seasons – and before Saturday in Denver had failed to score more than six points in his previous four games.
He had not made a 3-point shot since Nov. 19, missing 10 straight in that span before hitting a 3 with 9:03 remaining in the third quarter against the Nuggets.
Lopez often finds himself on the bench late in games, while Walton goes with a more nimble pick-and-roll defender in Julius Randle.
“It is different for me for sure,” Lopez said. “I am used to being out there. I love being out there on the court trying to help my team whenever I can. Obviously I am going to understand and accept my role wherever it may be as long as it helps the team.”
Lopez led all centers with 134 3-pointers last season. He had made three perimeter jumpers his entire career before working it into his game in his final year with the Nets. That was expected to be a staple of his game with the Lakers but through 21 games he was shooting just 30.1 percent from 3.
“We want to establish an inside game with him and kind of let it work its way out to the free throw line and the 3-point line,” Walton said. “We’re on the same page with all that.”
A tough interior scorer throughout his career, Lopez said before Saturday’s game that, “I have to get back to doing that.”
The Lakers went to Lopez on the block on their first two possessions Saturday at Pepsi Center.
The Lakers acquired Lopez in June along with the draft pick that became Kyle Kuzma in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
Lopez will become a free agent after the season, and will fall on the Lakers list of priorities somewhere below LeBron James and Paul George. So while the Lakers try to develop the core of players that will be here beyond April, Lopez’s…