Steve Nash sits out practice, Robin Lopez getting closer to a return

PHOENIX — People often complain about the TV networks lengthening the NBA playoffs, but don’t count the Phoenix Suns among those people for this weekend at least since it gives Steve Nash time to recover from his ailing hip strain and Robin Lopez more time to come back from his back injury.

Although they both clinched on Thursday, the Suns and Spurs will not tip off their series until Monday night so that TNT will have a Wednesday night game to televise. That’s because the Boston-Cleveland series that will for the most part be played on the same nights as Suns-Spurs will have three days off between Monday’s Game 2 and Friday’s 3 so that both series can finish on a Sunday.

That is good news for Nash, who missed practice on Saturday and is scheduled to miss Sunday’s session as well due to the hip strain that he suffered during shootaround of Game 3. It bothered him a bit in Game 3, then he was felt good in Games 4 and 5 before it was “pretty bad” and “the worst it’s been” in the Game 6 victory that Two Time struggled through.

Nash, who has never suffered such an injury, thinks he has a chance to feel great on Monday and that playing this weekend would have been more difficult.

“I’m getting better,” Nash said. “I’ve had two good days, so I’m really fortunate that we don’t play ’til Monday, give me a chance to recover a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Robin Lopez continued to make progress toward a return that the Suns won’t put a date on by practicing for the first time since his last game March 26 against the Knicks. Head coach Alvin Gentry continued to mitigate expectations by calling such a return “doubtful,” but the sophomore 7-footer “definitely” thinks he will return this series, he just doesn’t know when he will premiere.

Lopez did some halfcourt work on Saturday working on pick-and-roll stuff, and he also participated in some post drills. He said he felt “OK” conditioning-wise, adding that he was winded but not as winded as he expected to be.

After watching Portland throw caution to the wind as Brandon Roy rushed back from knee surgery, the contrast to the Suns’ kiddy glove treatment with Lopez is kind of startling. You have to think the Suns are doing the right thing. This is a 22-year-old seven-footer we’re talking about. A wrong step when it comes to his back could derail his bright future, and Lopez said that once he gets back close to 100 percent he will not be at a major risk of re-injuring it.

The Suns understand that Lopez’s future is more important than anything else in this situation, and after watching Roy struggle through Games 5 and 6 you’ve got to wonder if Portland’s star being on the court actually hurt the Blazers after they got the emotional lift from him in Game 4.

“If I played today Duncan might get that quadruple double he was aiming for a couple years ago,” Lopez joked on Saturday, only he might not have been joking.

The Suns desperately need Robin Lopez to defend Tim Duncan this series, but they need Robin Lopez, not a seven-footer who’s hurt.

“We’ll keep moving on, and if one day he comes in and says, ‘Boy, I’m ready to go,’ that would be great, but we’re not going to put any pressure on him whatsoever to try and get back to play in this series or any series that we may play in for the rest of the season,” Gentry said. “It’s going to be totally up to him, and if he feels great and he’s ready to go that will be fine, but if he’s not we’re not putting him out there, I’ll tell you that right now. We won’t risk anything that has to do with this.”

It’s anybody’s guess when and if Lopez will return and what kind of impact he will have if he does, we just know that at full strength Lopez gives the Suns their best shot at being able to single cover Tim Duncan. Only time will tell if Lopez is a difference maker against the Spurs or if he will be left to his frustrating seat behind the Suns’ bench.

“It’s up to the leg, up to the nerve,” Lopez said.

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