NBA

Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez, out since last October, will return to lineup on Monday

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Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez — out with a back injury since opening night — will make his return to the lineup against the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the team announced.

Lopez’s return fortifies the Bucks’ front line as the franchise prepares for the Eastern Conference playoffs and the chance to defend their NBA championship.

The Bucks also said George Hill will return on Monday. Hill (neck soreness) has missed the last 16 games.

Lopez had back surgery on Dec. 2, and had been rehabilitating the injury until he was cleared to return to full contact in practice a week ago. The Bucks are outside of the league’s top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time in coach Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, and part of the reason is that they’ve been playing without Lopez’s rebounding and rim protection.

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Milwaukee is 42-26 and second in the Eastern Conference behind Miami. Lopez was third in the NBA a year ago with 163 defensive box-outs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

He also ranked second in field goal percentage allowed at the rim among 72 players to defend 200 shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Golden State’s Draymond Green (47.3%) rated better than Lopez (49.3%).

Lopez, 33, averaged 12.3 points, five rebounds and 1.5 blocks a year ago.

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