Brook Lopez will return to the lineup for the Milwaukee Bucks in Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Lopez has not played since opening night after suffering a back injury. He underwent back surgery three months ago and reports on his progress have been sparse. Now, though, it appears as if he’s ready to go and contribute to Milwaukee’s upcoming title defense.
The Bucks badly needed Lopez back in the lineup. Their defense, which was the backbone of their championship run a season ago, has fallen to No. 13 this season without him as their primary rim-protector. The Bucks have instead been forced to play Giannis Antetokounmpo at center far more often than they would have liked and spent their only real trade chip at the deadline, Donte DiVincenzo, on another big man in Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has struggled to live up to the lofty standard Lopez set for the Bucks at center, though, and should now be able to more comfortably fit into a smaller role.
In addition to his defense, Lopez is perhaps the easiest big man in basketball to pair with Antetokounmpo on offense. His 3-point shooting spaces the floor for the two-time MVP, but when Antetokounmpo is out of the game, he can adequately fill in as a high-usage scorer in the post. Without Giannis for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, Lopez scored 33 points on 14-of-18 shooting to help take the Bucks within a game of the Finals.
Now he’ll be returning to a Bucks team that is peaking at the right time. The Bucks have won seven of their past 10 and are now getting healthier in time for the postseason. With Lopez back in the fold, they will finally have a complete roster for the first time this season. That makes them one of the scariest teams in the playoff field.