PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez will miss “several weeks” of action with a sprained MCL and PCL in his left knee, according to a team release.
The third-year center sustained the injury halfway through the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers when Jared Dudley fell into the left leg of the seven-footer.
Lopez was clearly in pain, hitting the floor and grabbing at the knee immediately. He did, however, return back to the bench after a short stint in the locker room, but the injury is clearly more severe than the Suns originally thought.
To replace Lopez, The Arizona Republic reported that the Suns will sign veteran center Earl Barron, pending a physical.
Barron averaged 11.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in seven games for the Knicks last season but no team has felt him worthy of signing with Barron boasting career averages of 5.5 points and 3.7 boards per game accrued largely in Miami from 2005-08. Barron’s best offensive asset is his mid-range jumper, and at seven feet and 250 pounds he could have the bulk to make a dent on the boards.
In his pregame chat with reporters, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said he plans to start Channing Frye in the absence of Lopez as he is doing for tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets. Frye’s three-point shot returned last night in Los Angeles as he stroked four three-pointers on his way to a 20-point, six-board performance in just under 38 minutes, but he allowed Pau Gasol to shred the Suns on the boards.
With Frye joining power forward Hedo Turkoglu in the starting lineup, the Suns boast five legitimate shooters among the starers but should get hurt on the boards pretty consistently.
Gentry said the Suns are “not a team that ever has set rotations” so he will likely mix and match some different combinations, along with Frye and Hakim Warrick getting some more time. Small ball also should be a good option against teams the Suns can afford to go small against.
“If they go really big on us they’ve got to guard us on the other end,” Gentry said. “If they try to take advantage of us on the inside, we try to take advantage of them by spacing the floor and spreading the court.”
The Suns’ young big men may also finally get the chance to contribute that has thus far passed them by with Phoenix playing a pretty set 10-man rotation not including them. Gani Lawal will be active tonight for the first time in his NBA career. Earl Clark has played less than a minute but could provide some athleticism up front and Garret Siler’s bulk could come in handy.
“Somebody’s going to step up, so it gives them an opportunity,” Gentry said. “One thing I talk about all the time is that if you’re on an NBA team at some stage during the season you’ll get an opportunity to perform.”
Aside from an 18-point, 14-rebound performance against the Lakers earlier in the season, Lopez has been MIA, struggling to to clear the glass and spending most of his time next to Alvin Gentry due to foul trouble.
After breaking out as a legitimate NBA center last season, Lopez is averaging only 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 block in 17.8 minutes in nine games as a starter. But even if he’s been sub-par, this is a huge blow for the Suns, who already struggled defensively and in the rebounding department with Lopez in the lineup.
If there’s one player the Suns could ill-afford to lose, other than Steve Nash, it’s Lopez. But one year after battling a back injury, the third-year center once again couldn’t avoid the injury bug.
Without Lopez, the Suns lose their only legitimate (in theory) rebounder and shot blocker and must rely even more on speed and spacing while crashing the boards as a team.
Although they won’t hit 22 three-pointers every night, the win over the Lakers provides a blueprint for how the Suns can win without Lopez: run, space the floor and hit a bunch of long balls.
Gentry has spoken at length about how Lopez needed to find his timing after missing a couple months with back surgery last season, and this injury will only extend the time before Lopez really feels comfortable on the basketball court once again.
The Suns need Lopez to become that force in the middle to reach their potential, but for now they must settle for Earl Barron (likely) and another dose of small ball.
Mike Schmitz contributed to this report.