PHOENIX — Although Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is just over 48 hours away, most of the talk at Saturday’s Phoenix Suns practice was in response to Lakers head coach Phil Jackson’s recent comments about Steve Nash carrying the basketball too often.
Nash joined an exclusive list of players, as the 10-time championship coach has a history of playing mind games by throwing around his two cents about an upcoming opposition.
Jackson’s last victim was Kevin Durant, as he said before the Oklahoma City series that Durant gets superstar calls and “gets to the line easy and often.” But Nash and the Suns aren’t buying into the mind games of the Zen Master and were very light-hearted in response to his comments.
“Everyone knows what he’s up to. I think it’s fun,” Nash said. “I think the fans and the media get a kick out of it. All in good fun.”
“Typical Phil,” Amare Stoudemire added.
Although Nash didn’t seem bothered at all by Jackon’s comments, he did throw a subtle jab back at the Zen Master by proclaiming Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA.
“I’ve been in the league 14 years and I don’t think I’ve been called for a carry yet. It’s news to me,” Nash said. “I’ve never heard anyone complain about me carrying the ball. The best coach in the league Gregg Popovich didn’t have a problem with it last week.”
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry joined in on the fun as well. After a reporter opened up the interview by asking about the keys to the series, Gentry jokingly said, “We tried to spend a lot of time on ball handling today. We’ve got a guy that carries the ball a lot.”
Gentry went on to joke that the Suns have been practicing ducking elbows from Los Angeles’ big men. Amidst all of the joking, Gentry did complement Jackson’s smarts and creativity and admitted that if you let his comments affect you than they will. But he made it clear that mind games go out the window on the basketball court.
“It’s not a mind game, it’s going to be decided on the court,” Gentry said. “The team that plays the best is going to win the series and it doesn’t matter how many mind games and what’s out there.”
Robin Lopez update
Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez went through another full day of practice and is getting “better every day,” according to head coach Alvin Gentry. He still wouldn’t specify whether or not Lopez would start Monday’s game in Los Angeles, but his playing time will not be limited.
“There’s no limit on the minutes, we’ve just got to see how he goes and see how he adjusts to playing for the first time since the end of March,” Gentry said of Lopez. “He’s gotten better every day, but it’s just hard to give it any kind of feel for what he’s going to do in the game because he hasn’t played since the end of March. His stamina obviously is going to be a factor right away. Cardio-wise he’s going to struggle right away. But we’ll see what kind of minutes he can give us.”
With all of the talk about the Lakers’ huge front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom off the bench, Lopez’s return and production will be one of the keys to a successful series for the Suns. The Lakers were second in the NBA in rebounds per game during the regular season and are tops in postseason play, so the Suns need a healthy Lopez more than ever.
“I told someone it’s not that he’s a great rebounder, it’s just the space that he takes up allows other guys a chance to rebound,” Gentry said of Lopez. “He just gives us that presence in there that without him we don’t have that, you know, we’re a small team.”
Gentry also talked about how the seven-footer improves the Suns defensively. Much like with rebounding, it isn’t that he’s a great shot blocker, it’s that his length and size allow him to alter a host of shots.
Lopez also gives the Suns a different look offensively, as he is the polar opposite of Channing Frye. Although the floor isn’t as spaced with Lopez in the game, Gentry likes that Amare can become more of a mid-range shooting threat and still keep things open for Nash and company to operate.
“Amare can be that pop guy, not three-point range, but pop enough so that we can still spread the floor,” Gentry said of the offense with Lopez in the game. “Just for us we like it because it gives us two entirely different looks really.”
Added Stoudemire, “When Channing’s out there I’m more inside scoring, when Robin’s in there I’m more outside scoring.”
Although Gentry still hasn’t specified whether or not Lopez will start, with no limit on his minutes it is sounding more and more like the seven-foot center’s name will be announced with the starters at Staples Center on Monday night at 6.
Suns-Lakers Western Conference Finals schedule