PHOENIX — At times it seems the NBA schedule would make more sense if a monkey randomly picked team names out of a hat.
But for once, the Phoenix Suns are not complaining, as the five full days they will get off before Friday’s tilt against the Lakers could not have come at a more perfect time, although it’s a bit odd that they played four games in five days last week and now get all this time off.
This time off will (in theory) allow Steve Nash’s ailing back and abdomen to heal up, Grant Hill to get some rest, Goran Dragic and LB to return from a sprained ankle and wrist surgery, respectively, and Channing Frye to heal the shoulder he injured Saturday night.
“We’re banged up more so than anything, and Steve’s a little physically not at 100 percent,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “It’s just probably a good time for us, even though we’re playing pretty good basketball, to have six days before we have to line up and play again.”
The most pressing issue concerns the two-time MVP, Nash, who has not felt good since the All-Star break and even took off the Feb. 23 game at Oklahoma City to rest and avoid a plane flight.
He complained about his health as much as I’ve ever head him after Thursday’s loss to Utah, a game in which he turned it over seven times, and he then sucked it up Saturday against Indiana for 38 minutes.
“I got through it, and really the goal was just to fight through it with the layoff, try to get the win and then just see this week if I can improve,” Nash said. “It’s a relief.”
The tricky part for Nash is he doesn’t feel he will improve just by sitting in a bed and doing nothing for five days. He needs to rest, recover and retrain. It’s also questionable how much better he will feel with just the five days off.
“We’ll see, we’ve just got to do the best we can and hope for the best,” Nash said. “I’m sure that some sort of rest will help, but I’ll also need to do some work on it.”
Nash also won’t be asked to play close to 40 minutes anymore once Friday rolls around since Dragic and Barbosa are expected back. LB has been cleared to practice for about a week, but Monday will mark his return to the practice floor because last week’s schedule didn’t allow for any practice time.
Gentry lamented the break on one hand because Phoenix is playing well, having won 14 of 18, but the All-Star break certainly didn’t mess with a Suns run of five wins in six games, so Gentry and the Suns are overall ecstatic about this time off.
“You don’t want it to break up where you go a week without playing, but for us I think it’ll be OK because I think we just need that week to try and recover, get Steve right, get Grant a little bit of rest, get Goran healthy and then maybe have LB back,” Gentry said.
It all comes down to rebounding
You might not believe how closely tied the rebounding battle is to getting the victory for the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns have not won a game in which they lost the rebounding battle since Jan. 11 against Milwaukee, and they have not lost a game in which they won the rebounding battle since Jan. 22 against Chicago. They tied the rebounding battle in a game they won and lost in that stretch.
In their last eight wins, the Suns have outrebounded their opponent by 10.9 boards per game, winning the rebounding battle by double digits in six of those eight games. They outboarded Atlanta by 14, Sacramento by 13, the Clippers by 20 and Indiana by 14.
“I’d like to give you some philosophical answer, but the bottom line is we’ve just tried harder,” Gentry said. “We’ve made a more conscious effort to do it, and that’s it. I don’t think it’s anything that we’ve done or worked on technique-wise or anything like that. We’ve just emphasized the importance of it.”
The J-Rich barometer
In many ways Jason Richardson’s season has mirrored that of the Suns, so maybe it’s no surprise that the team is 20-4 when he scores at least 20 points.
He averaged 17.7 ppg on 52.4 percent shooting in November, 13.1 on 41.1 shooting in December, 13.1 on 42.2 in January, 17.2 on 50.6 in February and now 19.0 on 60.0 percent shooting in March, making more shots than he’s missed every game this month.
If J-Rich hadn’t injured his hand in December and proceeded to slump, who knows if the Suns would have suffered through such poor months in December and January.
“He’s just played really good, consistent basketball, and just remember the first 15-17 games of the season he was playing at this level, too, so I think he’s doing just a terrific job,” Gentry said. “I think more so than scoring he’s doing a terrific job at rebounding the basketball for us.”
On that last point, J-Rich averaged 6.3 boards per game in February and is averaging 7.3 per in March. Not bad for your starting two guard.
A modern-day Ponce de Leon
Grant Hill is having the kind of March that makes you wonder if we’re stuck in 1997.
In four games last week he averaged an 18.5-7.0-4.5 with two of them being back-to-backs and one a fourth night in five days, all the while playing backup point guard in two of them with Dragic out.
“I can’t say enough about Grant and the level that he’s playing at and what he’s giving our team,” Gentry said, riffing off a question that had nothing to do with Hill. “I ask him to guard Danny Granger, I ask him to bring the ball up, I ask him to get us into our offense, I ask him to post up and score. He never complains about anything, so everybody should be able to coach him at some stage of their career. I’ve been lucky, I’ve coached him for over half his career. I just don’t think they make him like him. I really don’t.”
The Suns won their 1,900th game in franchise history Saturday night, becoming the fourth-fastest club to reach that mark. Only the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers have won more games. … The Suns became the first non-division winner to reach the 40-win mark on Saturday night.