PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are 2-6 and quickly falling out of NBA relevance since their six-player trade with the Orlando Magic. Although the entire team is searching to find itself, no one has drifted into oblivion more than center.
Withquickly surging up the depth chart, Lopez has become a ghost, playing 13 minutes or less in five of the last six games. He’s looked slow, lethargic and out of position night in and night out, as he’s averaged only four points and two rebounds in 12 minutes over his last five games.
“Obviously he’s not playing to the level we anticipated right now so I’m going to sit down with him now and talk about it,” said head coach Alvin Gentry after Thursday’s practice. “We’d like to get his level of play up obviously because he becomes very important to us because we’ve seen it before.
“He’s had a successful run here before and before he got hurt a year back he was playing great basketball for us and we’d like to get him back to that level.”
Added Nash: “I don’t know if it’s just physical or if there’s something else going on.”
Lopez said he feels healthy, it just hasn’t translated into productive play on the court. He looked energetic and active after returning from a knee sprain earlier in the season, even scoring 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting against the Thunder.
But since Gortat became a regular rotation player, Lopez went into his disappearing act and is floating out of the rotation. You would think he would play heavy minutes against a big Lakers team, but he played only 12 minutes after starting next to Gortat.
The Polish Machine, on the other hand, played 35 minutes against the Lakers, scoring 12 points, grabbing nine boards and limiting Pau Gasol to six points (3-of-10 shooting) and nine rebounds — something the Suns have never been able to do.
“I thought Gortat did about a good of job as you can do on Pau,” Gentry said. “Pau’s been a guy that’s really hurt us and I thought the way Gortat played him, we kind of neutralized him and we hadn’t been able to do that.”
The Laker game was the first time the Suns had ever played Lopez and Gortat together, which went fairly well defensively but limited the Suns offensively at times. Nash said there were some spacing problems from time to time, but only because the Suns’ bigs missed some “bunnies” inside that would have opened up the lanes more.
Both Nash and Gentry both said they’ll only play that big lineup when they’re playing teams with two bigs down low, meaning that if Lopez continues to struggle, Gortat (11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks in 32.6 minutes in his last five) may very well take over as starting center.
“He’s doing well, I think potentially he could do better,” Nash said of Gortat. “Obviously he’s very capable. He’s got good hands, he’s athletic. I don’t think he’s that comfortable yet catching and finishing because I don’t think he got a lot of opportunities in Orlando so we’ve got to give him time.
“I don’t think he’s played this many minutes, gotten this many opportunities or played in the fourth quarter so you’ve got to give him time to get comfortable. But he’s definitely capable.”
Nash committed to Phoenix
With the Suns falling out of the Western Conference playoff race (14-19), the first thought becomes: Will Nash be traded? The national media posed that question and threw out possible scenarios, but president of basketball operations Lon Babby assured Nash he isn’t on the move.
“He told me a month ago when it first sprung that he had no plans to move me,” Nash said.
“I think I’m at the stage of my career now where I’m not going home, worrying about trades and stuff like that. I really, genuinely don’t think about it when I leave here,” Nash added. “And yet to be honest I’m the last to know, I don’t usually follow closely. I usually find out from you guys and get a sense of ‘Is something going on?’”
Nash said he’s obviously frustrated with losing but made it clear that he still believes in the Suns, and is committed and happy in Phoenix.
“I signed up for this. I’m committed to try to build a team here. Last year was a phenomenal year. Tied 2-2 I thought we could win a championship, like genuinely believed it, that we could win it,” Nash said. “It’s tough to be in this situation six months later but I’m still committed to it. I love the guys. I think we’ve got potential. I just think we’ve had so much change and haven’t been able to put it together.
“I’m still happy. I just want to try to win games for these fans and for our team. That’s kind of the most frustrating thing is that we’ve been in a lot of games that we haven’t won when last year we’d find a way to win most of those.”