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Jim Mancari,

Hands down, Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA, even though his injured back is still not 100 percent healed.

Brook Lopez

So when Howard expressed his interest to play in Brooklyn this past offseason, Nets nation obviously was thrilled and patiently hoped for a deal to get done.

It waited and waited some more. When word came out that the contemplated package for Howard was one including Brook Lopez and four first round draft picks, it balked, but quickly realized that players like Howard do not become available too often.

Despite the hefty price though, it appeared that once the dust settled, Howard would team up with Deron Williams as the Nets moved to Brooklyn.

But as the Nets and Lakers prepare for their game this evening, Howard will be suiting up in purple and gold, not black and white. For the Nets, that's probably for the best.

The Magic did not feel confident that Lopez would develop into a high quality player, and thus Orlando accepted the Lakers’ package as part of a four-team trade.

Through 10 games in Los Angeles, Howard is off to a great start. He’s averaging a double-double at 20.0 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 60.8 percent and blocking 2.7 shots per game.

These are excellent numbers and should only get better once Howard regains his form and Steve Nash returns. But don’t sleep on Lopez just because Howard gets the bulk of the publicity.

Although the intention here is not to say that Lopez is in the same class as Howard, Lopez has shown that he can be a productive big man, especially in first quarters of games.

Lopez is averaging 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game through Brooklyn’s first eight. And although Howard’s rebounding numbers trump Lopez’s, it’s something the latter has been working on. With Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche playing well around the glass, Lopez really only needs to pull down seven to 10 rebounds per night to be effective. And we've seen that.

Despite Lopez's subpar rebounding, the Nets enter play on Tuesday night averaging 41.5 rebounds per game, 16th in the league. Though it does not rank in the top half, it's a huge improvement over last year's ranking: 27th.

Lopez is shooting 53.8 percent from the field compared to Howard’s 60.8 percent. But Lopez has the ability to stretch the floor with his midrange shot, that opens the floor up for both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Howard, on the other hand, camps out in the paint and rarely takes an outside shot. With him on the interior, Johnson and Williams would both be relegated to taking outside shots.

Lopez is also shooting 63.6 percent from the free-throw line, which is actually down from his 79.1 percent career mark. Howard is only shooting 50.5 percent from the charity stripe this season and has only hit on 58.6 percent of his free throws in his career.

For a center, making free throws is such an integral part of helping the team win, since centers get fouled so often down low, especially in late game situations.

During the Nets’ five-game winning streak, the team has received scoring from a variety of sources, so the pressure on Lopez has been alleviated somewhat. Still, he’s averaging 18.8 points during the streak.

Tonight’s matchup will be a big test for Lopez, going against one of the better defensive centers in the league in Howard. Williams will likely try to set up Lopez early so he can get into a rhythm.

So while many Nets fans would have loved to see Howard in Brooklyn, the vast majority is likely pleased with Lopez’s fast start. As long as he stays healthy, Lopez can be a top-five center in the NBA, and judging by the Nets early 6-2 record, it's hard to argue with the early results.

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

Tags: magic, Brooklyn, Brook Lopez Better Than Dwight Howard, dwight howard, nba center, lakers, Columns, brook lopez, nets, Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, howard trade
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