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Jim Mancari,

In order to be successful, the Nets need Brook Lopez. And after missing all but five games last season, the concerns about his health were very real. That concern, though, extended to the rest of the team.

Heading into the season, the main key for the new-look Brooklyn Nets was developing chemistry, but health was a close second.

While general manager Billy King did an admirable job of adding depth to the bench, keeping all five starters relatively healthy all season remains the goal.

As stated, Brook Lopez was coming off a season in which he played in just five games, while Deron Williams raised injury concerns with bone spurs in his left ankle. Gerald Wallace’s high-energy style has earned him the nickname “Crash,” but that hard-nosed style is always an injury concern.

The Nets have played 17 games this season and have a solid 11-6 record, including two separate five-game winning streaks.

But the injury bug has been troublesome in the early going. Williams had played through multiple minor injuries and Wallace and Lopez have each missed a handful of games.

When the team is at full-strength—meaning that Lopez, Kris Humphries, Wallace, Joe Johnson and Williams start the game—the team is 6-1. They earned wins over the Raptors, Kings, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Knicks and Celtics and lost to the Lakers.

Wallace left the game against the Raptors and both Wallace and Humphries were ejected against the Celtics, but both players still were in the starting lineup for those games.

However, when at least one starter is out with injury, the team is 5-5; 4-3 without Wallace and 1-2 without Lopez.

In the three losses without Wallace, the Nets gave up 102-plus points in each game. Wallace stabilizes the team’s defense, so he was obviously sorely missed during those games.

The absence of Lopez the past three games has opened up the paint for opposing teams’ scorers. Dwyane Wade was able to drive from the outside right to the hoop, while Serge Ibaka controlled the paint and was even able to stretch the floor with a mid-range jumper.

Over the course of an 82-game season, injuries are bound to occur. The Nets are deep enough to be able to handle these injuries if they come along.

But being forced to play 10 of the first 17 games at less than full strength is not a good sign. Defense wins games, and Wallace is a generally regarded as a good defender. Lopez, on the other hand, was turning heads with his shot blocking prowess, at least prior to his getting injured.

Rather than rush players back, the Nets have their eyes on the bigger picture and want their starters healthy for the long haul. In the interim, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson, Jerry Stackhouse and Andray Blatche have helped the team be relatively successful, even at less than 100 percent strength.

Like any team, the Nets are a different animal when at full-strength. Avery Johnson has many options when all his pieces are healthy, and that depth has been shown in the seven games in which the Nets were fully healthy.

Every once in a while, it’s fine to give a starter a rest, especially in the second game of a back-to-back. Keeping the team fresh for a playoff run—which the Nets should expect to make—would be a wise decision for coach Johnson.

A playoff run, though, depends on health. As the Nets wait for the return of Lopez, hope to have it.

Jim Mancari is a Contributor to Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.

Tags: bench, avery johnson, defense, NBA, Columns, brook lopez, playoffs, full-strength, gerald wallace, depth
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