Central Notes: Lopez, Connaughton, Williams, Bickerstaff

Bucks center Brook Lopez was out of action so long that he even missed arguing with the referees, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. After playing on opening night, Lopez sat out nearly five months because of back issues. He had surgery on December 2 to repair a bulging disc and went through a long rehab process that kept him off the court until this Monday.

Lopez was restricted to 15 minutes during his first game back, but he mostly played the way he did when he helped bring a title to Milwaukee last season. He mishandled the ball occasionally because of a lack of timing, but he made all the defensive plays that he usually does, according to Nehm.

“I’ve been through injuries a few times and so it’s always just made me appreciate basketball, love it even more,” Lopez said. “I try never to take my time on the court for granted, whether it’s practice, shootaround or a game. And so that’s why I just try to be out there, whenever I’m out there, playing with energy, being enthusiastic, and above all, having fun, having a good time. And with the group we have, that’s easy. But yeah, I’m just so happy and blessed to be back out there. There’s not much else I want in the world than that.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks guard Pat Connaughton is close to a return after having hand surgery last month, tweets Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Coach Mike Budenholzer indicated that Connaughton needs to go through one more practice before playing again.
  • The Bulls have cleared Patrick Williams for full contact as he works to return from wrist surgery, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Williams didn’t travel with the Bulls on their current three-game road trip, and he may practice or play for the team’s G League affiliate during that time. “A lot’s gonna now depend on how it goes once he does that (practices), and what does medical feel and he feel like (is) an ample amount of time for him to get comfortable actually going into a game,” coach Billy Donovan said.
  • J.B. Bickerstaff deserves Coach of the Year consideration for holding together a Cavaliers team that has been wrecked by injuries, argues Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Cleveland is still in contention for a top six spot in the East despite losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio early in the season and Jarrett Allen more recently. Vardon also says former Cavs coach Tyronn Lue should be recognized for the job he has done with the Clippers.
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