When the Brooklyn Nets lost Brook Lopez to injury with a mild foot sprain last week in Boston, the projected return time was two to three games. Five games later—and most of them losses—one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Lopez is the Nets' most important player.

Losing to the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in relatively competitive back-to-back games could've been turned into "good losses" upon Lopez's return and/or victories against Golden State and Milwaukee. Neither happened. Losses to the Warriors on Friday and the Bucks last night—a game in which they "came back" only to lose by 11—now make it four straight, with the Nets allowing over 106 points per in those contests.

Without Lopez, Brooklyn's interior defense has suffered, bringing back memories of the team's miserable final season at the Prudential Center, when Lopez missed all but five games with a similar foot injury. Worse yet, the Nets are still unsure when he will return.

"He hasn't really gone through a full shootaround or practice yet, so we don't feel comfortable putting him in the game. He's just not ready," Nets coach Avery Johnson said before Sunday's loss. Johnson noted that Lopez worked out Sunday, meaning a return to the practice floor could soon be in his future—but will it be in time for Tuesday's game against the Knicks?

"Could be a chance, but again, like I've been telling you guys, with a guy with a foot history like this, he's gotta be able to get through a practice, recover well, go through a shootaround and then have no issues in the afternoon, and play (a game)," Johnson said.

And this is coming during the team's "easy" portion of the schedule. With only four home games in ten days, the Nets head into the rematch against their cross-bridge rivals still searching for a victory on this homestead. This after a 7-1 stretch before their recent woes. Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans have filled in admirably for Lopez—in fact, Blatche has averaged a double-double in Lopez's absence—but defensively the Nets look helpless and desperate to get their center back. Needless to say, the schedule gets much more grueling as the Nets will play 11 games to close the month.

When the Nets beat the Knicks two weeks ago, the world was a much different place. All of a sudden, Tuesday's game is a must-win for Brooklyn—one that could bust them out of a slump despite the status of their big man. Without a win, they'll be losers of five straight; a middle-of-the-road team desperately searching for a way out of New Jersey.