PHOENIX — As the rest of the nation is focused on Cavs-Lakers, the early talk in US Airways Center has revolved around the return of super sub Leandro Barbosa.
The Suns are 12-2 with Barbosa in the lineup and 6-9 when he’s out this season, including the current 4-8 December stretch. The Blur was just starting to come around when he sprained his left ankle on Nov. 29 in Toronto, as he had scored in double digits in five straight games, including 17 in the Raptors game.
The Suns don’t have a specific plan for Barbosa, but he will come in around the four-minute mark of the first as usual and the Suns will go by feel, although don’t expect a 35-minute game from LB.
“He’s always been an intricate part of what we’ve done here,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “He’s a guy that can change games, and obviously he gives you a boost off the bench that really speed and what he does, there’s very few guys in the league that can come off the bench and do what he does. Obviously the league thinks so, he’s been Sixth Man of the Year. What we’re all about he’s a big part of because he can sustain the up-tempo style that we’re accustomed to playing.”
Now with LB back in tow, the Suns will be able to re-establish the rotation that had been working for them so well during the first part of the season.
“We were playing great when we had him in the rotation and bringing him off the bench,” Gentry said. “Everybody had a pretty defined role, but when he got hurt those roles changed a little bit. We were asking guys for a little bit more than we really should have, and that’s kind of what got us in a little bit of trouble, but to have him back and to be able to have him in the rotation … will really help.”
Here are some other highlights from Gentry’s pregame chat:
Gentry feels like the season-opening win over the Clippers in Los Angeles was the victory that propelled the Suns to their hot 14-3 start.
“The most important win that we’ve had this season,” he said. “I think what it did is it gave us actually a little confidence that if we lose that game we might not have had.”
On Nash playing so well: “If you’ve been around Steve it doesn’t surprise the people that know him well because you knew that he was going to come back in great shape. You knew that he would be at the top of his game, especially after the season that we had last year. It doesn’t surprise me.
“I think he could be a real effective player in this league until he’s 40 years old. I don’t know if he can play at the level he’s playing at right now, but he keeps himself in great shape. The day that he can’t help a team is the day he’ll walk away, he’ll never just be around to be around. I think he’s playing better than he played when he was MVP of this league.”
“He’s such the engine that drives this thing. He really is. He opens up the floor for everyone and is such an unselfish guy with what he does.”
On this rough stretch: “There’s peaks and valleys in every season. Every team goes through it. I just think especially when you’ve got a small margin of error there’s going to be games where we kind of let slip away or not play well, but we’ve got good character in our locker room so we stay on an even keel.”
On why the Suns have struggled lately: “I think what we’ve not been able to do over the course of these games is that we’ve had really big shots that would have meant a lot, we haven’t been able to get those in the basket. To either extend the lead or cut it to a one-possession situation, we haven’t gotten those in the basket.”
On Earl Clark: “It’s a hard situation. He plays a position where guys are really solid. He’s fine, he’s just got to keep working at it.”