PHOENIX (AP) — Alvin Gentry says he welcomes the rest before the start of the Western Conference finals, a weeklong hiatus that the Phoenix Suns coach believes will make 7-footer Robin Lopez available for the series.
Lopez, out since March 28 with a back injury (bulging disk), scrimmaged on Tuesday in the team’s first practice since wrapping up a four-game sweep of the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.
“He looks a little bit better,” Gentry said. “We’ve got basically six more days so we feel good about his progress continuing so that I think he’ll be able to play.”
Lopez won’t be able to step in and play at the level that he was when he was injured, Gentry said, but it would help just to have him out there against the big Los Angeles Lakers.
The Suns open the series against the reigning NBA champions Monday night in Los Angeles.
Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson sat out Tuesday’s practice, mostly for the rest. Nash had a black right eye but most of the swelling was gone from the elbow he took from Tim Duncan in Game 4.
The atmosphere was loose, with a few players taking shots while wearing a black eye patch to try to emulate Nash in his remarkable one-eyed performance in the fourth quarter on Sunday night.
“Air ball,” Goran Dragic said after his attempt missed everything. “I don’t know how he did it.”
In one of the more memorable episodes in Suns history, Nash got six stitches to close the cut above his eye, then returned. With the eye swollen shut, he made a 3-pointer and two crucial runners and handed out five assists in the fourth quarter as Phoenix pulled away for the victory.
Being from hockey-mad Canada, Nash said he wasn’t about to let a little cut on his face keep him out of the game. Gentry said they would have taken his citizenship away if he hadn’t returned.
“Certainly with my friends I had no choice but to get back out there and play,” Nash said. “They watch basketball games and say ‘Are you kidding me?’ … My friends want to turn off the TV sometimes when they watch basketball, so I had no choice but to get back out there or that would have been the end of it for basketball in my hometown.”
Lopez slipped out without talking to reporters, and Gentry cautioned not to make too much of the big second-year pro’s probable return.
“This is not the cavalry, guys,” Gentry said.
Lopez averaged 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots in the 31 games after he became a starter on Jan. 18. Gentry expected defense and rebounding from Lopez, but was surprised with the offense he provided, including a career-high 30 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 28.
Phoenix was 22-9 with Lopez as a starter.
He went down six games into the Suns’ season-high 10-game winning streak.
Phoenix, obviously, has been fine without him, going 16-4.
“It will definitely help to have Robin back for a few,” Amare Stoudemire said. “He’s a player that always gives us that extra energy … If we can get him back that would be phenomenal, but I think even if we don’t, we’ll be in good shape.”