Robin Lopez out for road trip, maybe longer

The Phoenix Suns will really miss the defense of Robin Lopez when he misses the upcoming road trip because of a back injury. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

The Phoenix Suns will really miss the defense of Robin Lopez when he misses the upcoming road trip because of a back injury. (Alan Walsh/ValleyoftheSuns)

Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez will miss the team’s upcoming road trip with bulging discs in his back, according to The Arizona Republic.

A Saturday morning MRI led to the diagnosis on Lopez, whose back has bothered him the last couple games. He will stay back and rehab during the Suns’ upcoming five-game swing, and Suns GM Steve Kerr told the newspaper “it could be worse” than just missing the trip.

Lopez dominated the first quarter of Friday’s win over the Knicks, going for 10 points and five boards in nine minutes against Danilo Gallinari. But he played only 13 more minutes versus the undersized Knicks and finished with just four more points and two more boards.

After the game, head coach Alvin Gentry said that “Robin’s back was kind of bothering him a little bit,” which is why he didn’t play more.

After rebounding was a major issue for the first half of the season, the Suns became a positive rebounding club once Lopez was inserted into the starting lineup and started getting more minutes, and their defensive numbers have steadily improved as well in this time.

This is without question a big blow. Lopez is one of the biggest reasons this team isn’t “the same old Suns,” as well as a primary reason for the team’s 20-5 run.

The Suns did start the season 12-3 while Lopez worked his way back from a broken left foot, but he has since become part of the identity of the new Suns. With three of the worst teams in the NBA coming up on this trip, the Suns should be OK for the time being, but with a back you never know. When I covered the Dodgers, Rafael Furcal had back disc issues and it took him most of the season to return.

Paul Coro speculated that seldom-used Jarron Collins would start to preserve the Suns’ rotation with Channing Frye off the bench. I believe in letting the best players play, and offensively Frye was a perfect fit with the first unit early in the season. I would start Frye and give him more minutes while also playing Lou Amundson a little more and even giving Earl Clark burn in some situations.

Regardless of his exact role, Frye will certainly need to step up in Lopez’s absence. Channing tied a season high with 11 boards in 22 minutes against the Knicks, prompting Kerr to congratulate him after the game by saying, “Hey Rodman, nice game.”

Frye also corralled 10 boards Sunday against Portland, but before that he had not gone for double-figure rebounds in all of 2010 and he has only done so six times all year. With Lopez out, Frye could go from seeing just over 20 minutes the last couple months up to the 30-plus minutes he averaged in November and December, so it’s critical that he makes the most of that time on the glass (and offensively of course).

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