Lopez trade bait after monster game vs. Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks may have lost on two fronts Tuesday evening. The 93-92 loss to the New Jersey Nets isn’t debilitating, but those 38 points the Mavs allowed center Brook Lopez might leave a mark.

Former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, now with the Nets, had told us on local radio Tuesday that his starting point guard, Deron Williams, has been the organization’s “best recruiter” in recent weeks. That’s on the heels of reports that Williams, who hails from The Colony, told folks within the Mavs organization during last season’s NBA Finals that his desire was to play in Dallas. The bottom line is the Nets’ best hope of retaining Williams is to somehow pair him with Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.

And like it or not, Lopez’s breakout performance Tuesday against what’s regarded as one of the best defensive teams in the league makes him much more attractive in a potential trade. Lopez has been an excellent player for the Nets, but everyone wanted to see how he’d return from a broken ankle this season. Well, he connected on 17 of 28 shots and dismantled the Mavs on a night when Williams was awful from the field.

After that performance, you couldn’t blame Mavs fans for daydreaming about Lopez in the middle instead of Howard. OK, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but it was remarkable to see Lopez dismantle the Mavs in the paint. And when the Nets nearly coughed up the game in the closing minutes, it was Lopez who bulled his way into the lane to draw a foul and hit two clutch free throws.

You like Howard’s chances of hitting those free throws with the game on the line?

Johnson, wisely, has given Williams the keys to his team. And he wanted to clarify some recent comments in which he said that Mavs owner Marc Cuban was a serious “threat” to land Williams in free agency.

“Anybody under the cap is a threat to get a guy who is an unbelievable point guard,” Johnson told reporters at American Airlines Center. “But I said, I believe he has every intention to re-sign with us because he’s involved with (a lot of things in New Jersey).”

While joining us on 103.3 KESN-FM on Tuesday, Johnson said Williams was even helping out with the design of the locker room in the team’s new arena in Brooklyn. Unlike another local product, Chris Bosh, Williams doesn’t seem to have any reservations about playing for his hometown team. He normally put up big numbers at the AAC when he was with the Jazz, and he has a close relationship with Jason Kidd and some of the other Mavs.

The Mavs know the Nets are the biggest threat to trade for Howard before the March 15 trade deadline. And playing in only his third game of the season, Lopez put on a show for the Magic. You better believe that Orlando general manager Otis Smith and his scouts were all over Tuesday’s game in Dallas. Perhaps the Mavs’ best hope is that NBA commissioner David Stern might block the trade, as he did with Chris Paul to the Lakers.

Otherwise, Tuesday was the worst-case scenario for the Mavs. They provided the backdrop for one of the most stunning individual performances of the season.

Now they have to deal with the consequences. A game against the Nets coming out of the All-Star break may not have seemed monumental, but we may feel differently in a couple weeks.

If the Mavs were going to have a defensive meltdown, maybe they could have waited until after the trade deadline. For now, it looks like Lopez had one of the most important breakout games for the Nets in the past decade.