Gentry: ‘I’ll be shocked if (Lopez) doesn’t play’

PHOENIX — For the past month and a half, the Suns have stuck with a wait-and-see approach with Robin Lopez.

Even at the beginning of his back injury there was no proclamation that he’d be shut down for 4-6 weeks, he just wasn’t going to accompany the team on its late-season Eastern road trip, which made me think originally he’d return for that April 7 showdown against San Antonio.

Then he was ruled out for the rest of the regular season, then he was ruled out for the first round and then he was ruled out for the beginning of the San Antonio series, although by this point it was kind of a day-by-day thing.

As time went on, Lopez continued to get positive reviews from his weekly checkups with a back specialist, and as the playoffs wore on he started working out with the team and then even practicing. He had no more hurdles to clear, yet the Suns still weren’t confident about sending him out there against Tim Duncan.

Finally, this week the Suns have changed their tune. Lopez is expected to be in the lineup for Monday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers.

“I think he’s gotten better,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “He continues to improve. It’s one of those situations where we basically have four more days. We’ll see where it leads us from there. I think he’s gotten better, and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t play, but we’ll see what happens the next four days.”

How effective Lopez will be and how many minutes he will play is a completely different story. The seven-foot center has been shut down because of a bulging disk in his back that led to some nerve issues in his right leg.

The Suns have been cautious with him for a reason. We’re talking about their 22-year-old center of the future, and a back injury could be a career-altering ailment. Lopez said last week that once he returns he will not be at risk of re-injuring the back, which is why the Suns have made sure he’s right before throwing him back into the fire.

Because he is theoretically fully rehabilitated, it’s possibly he won’t just be a shell of himself like Brandon Roy was when coming back early. However, no matter how much the Suns try to simulate it this week, Game 1 (if he does indeed play in it) will be Lopez’s first action since March. There will be some rust, particularly since he’s going up against guys like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Still, at one point I did not think the Suns could beat the Spurs without Lopez (how wrong that was), but I really don’t think the Suns can beat the Lakers without a positive contribution from Robin. The Lakers are just too big, and even 15 (if not 20) minutes of Robin banging on them and taking up space inside would be huge for Phoenix.

Of course, he could suffer a setback and not come back at all, but as things stand now it looks like Lopez will play a role in the Western Conference Finals.

“He probably would have played if we had games to play now,” Gentry said. “Fortunately for us we have a week between the games, and I think he’ll be ready to play. That’s just my guess.”

Nash banged up, but good to go

Although he still looked like a boxer who went the distance at practice Wednesday, Steve Nash said there’s “nothing” his eye injury has prevented him from doing, “everything is fine” and that “oh yeah” he’d be playing if the Western Conference Finals started tonight.

Said head coach Alvin Gentry, “I told somebody you’ve got to listen to Barry Melrose. He’s Canadian, it doesn’t matter. Facial lacerations don’t count in Canada. He says if you don’t play in a sporting event because of a facial laceration then you lose your citizenship in Canada. Steve is fine. He’s banged up, he’s got a black eye, but it’s not anything unusual coming out of a series with San Antonio. He’ll be ready to go, and he’ll be ready to play.”

I think that means don’t expect Nash on the Game 1 injury report.

  • David

    Jaron Collins has been a disaster, so just replacing his minutes with Robin will be a huge upgrade, no matter how much rust Robin has accumulated.

    It will be hard to win this series even with a healthy Lopez, but there is a reason they play the games.

  • Michael

    will RoLo be replacing Collins in the starting lineup? I heard he was going to come off the bench for game 1 at least. If that is true, I think that is very stupid of Gentry. That would screw up Frye's rotation/minutes. ROLO NEEDS TO START! all he really needs to do is rebound the ball for us and do his best with contesting shots. although it would be a huge plus for him to do some scoring and big time shot blocking, but that might be a bit too much to ask of a player just coming back from injury. GO SUNS!

  • Vamsi

    >> all he really needs to do is rebound the ball

    I totally agree pal. I think defensive rebounding is key in the series as it would stir the suns transition offence.

  • JoCaLa

    Just a 7'0 with hands in the air playing better D than Collins is going to be worth it. Collins BLOWS

  • fuxakes

    Hopefully the temp can take Bynum out of the game. Then if Lopez can give them 20 minutes, Amare is going off.

  • S

    Sweet news. Collins has not been good offensively, and it’s hard for the guys when one of them isn’t producing (hence all the bad starts against Spurs). Even if Fropez is rusty, he’s still a 7′ guy who demands some attention, and hopefully he will continue his great offensive rebounding from the reg season.

    So good effort Collins, you played some decent defense when we needed you. He’s been important to keep Frye’s foul numbers down.

  • Dave

    I say we go Parent Trap on them. No one will ever see it coming. Step 1) Give FroLo a haircut, along with a big story in AZ Republic about his new do. Step 2) Carefully swap out Frolo for Brolo and teach him the offense. Step 3) Profit!!

  • Shea K

    If Robin plays 60% of his usual self it will still be an upgrade from Collins.

  • Lakeshow

    Hope Stoudemire realizes he will be defending in this series.
    His teammates won’t be helping out by doubling off anyone (ala Portland series to keep Aldridge at bay) or Spurs series (when he had to guard old McDyess).
    I guess we will see how much his defense has improved then huh?!

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  • PJ

    Lakeshow- Insider scoop, Amare hasn’t made any leaps and bounds defensively… if anything he’s slightly more aware defensively than previous iterations, but thats not saying much. For a man of his athletic talents hes still underwhelming defensively.

    but as a suns fan i desperately want him to prove me wrong

  • PJ

    And to not come off as anti-Amare i want to add that hes a top 5 scorer in my book and an absolute beast on the pick & roll/pop. He’s as efficient scoring as you’ll find at his position and probably earned that max deal hes been after.

  • Lakeshow

    PJ – that is what I am saying. No one is doubting Amare’s offensive ability. I’m saying that he will be required to play legit defense in this series, which is when he gets into foul troubles I think.

  • suns68

    Lay off Collins!
    He did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was be ready to go in case of an injury and be part of the human wave wearing down the opponents’ bigs so the pick-and-roll could work down the stretch.
    You could see he was sacrificing his stat line for the good of the team. It was a mature and professional performance of the role he was assigned.
    The Suns swept(!) the Spurs with him in the starting lineup. What more do you want?

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  • Ace Phoenix

    I agree Suns68, Collins did his job. Would it be nice if was a bit more of an offensive threat like Robin Lopez is, sure, but he plays D, takes his fouls, and rebounds, that is all we were asking him to do and he did it serviceably.
    That said, I am excited that Lopez should be back for this series, his ability to run the floor is way under the radar and he is going to be a big factor in the series. Glad to have our banger back!
    Go Suns!

  • The Z. Man

    Hope Lopez plays ball for a good long time.

    Just not in the Western Conference Finals. This clamoring for RoLo, in my opinion, is what turned our championship run sour. Still, Gentry was not forced to listen to all of the misguided Suns fans. Remember Van Gundy’s big blunder vs. LA, last year? It was trying to reintegrate Jameer, one of their best players, with the team. It’s not what was done but WHEN it was done. If a team is playing outstanding ball, don’t introduce a new wrinkle that is supposed to elevate their play but could very well back fire and cause damage to their game. Gentry made LOTS of good moves this year, but, his lack of playoff experience showed in this highly dangerous move. Suns were doing just fine. Even though Collins caused them to start each game in a hole. Ironically, it made them focus on digging out of the hole. That momentum carried us the rest of the game. Were it not for this poor decision, the Celtics may well be playing our Suns.

    Next year is a different story and I hope Robin is healthy, right from training camp. Next year, it will be MOST important to keep the team chemistry high. Kerr & Sarver MUST avoid personnel changes, at all cost. STAY with the same guys. This will result in the chemistry we need for lots of wins. MUST KEEP Barbosa, Louis & Frye.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!