Phoenix Suns starting center Robin Lopez hasn't played since November 14 when teammate Jared Dudley was tripped and fell into the side of his left leg, causing a moderate sprain to the knee. That's 14 games he's missed so far, a streak that could end on Wednesday when the Suns take the court.
Lopez had a full practice with no limitations today and reported no pain immediately following the session, which included extensive five-on-five scrimmage work. His conditioning will be an issue according to Coach Gentry, but if his knee responds well over the next few days of practice, he should play against Minnesota.
"It feels OK, no problems with the knee. It's good to get back with the guys. I don't feel like I've missed a step," Lopez said on Sunday immediately after practice and some extra work with Suns Assistant Coach Bill Cartwright.
Lopez didn't start the season off playing well due in large part to a lack of quickness and explosiveness, which were lingering effects of the back injury he suffered in late March 2010. The extra time off due to the left knee injury has allowed the right leg to recover more, as well.
"The nerve damage down my right leg, that was kind of a lingering problem and that takes a little while -- dating back to the back injury -- it takes a little while to heal from. Obviously, there's more time, more distance between the (back) injury and now, so it's getting better," Robin explained.
As result of the extra recovery time for the right leg, he felt like he played even better in practice today than he had early in the season before the left knee sprain.
Coach Gentry wouldn't yet say if he would start Lopez right away or if he would come off the bench. A lot will depend on how he looks in practice on Monday and Tuesday. One factor that could play a role in that decision is the desire to get him into the game right away after pregame warm-ups instead of having him warm-up and then sit down and have to come into the game cold.
Lopez was slated to play an important role for the Suns this season, with Gentry calling him the second most important player on the team (behind Steve Nash) before the year started.
"He had played well (before the back injury) and we know what he can do when he is playing well and what we have to do is get him back to that level. The fact that he wasn't playing well at the start (of the season) doesn't bother me. We've got to get him back to the level where he did help us and he was a factor and then do a good job of protecting the basket," Gentry said.
Robin gives the Suns and a defensive presence in the paint, but still needs to get more consistent in rebounding, which is something he understands.
"Clog up the middle, keep some people off the boards, grab some rebounds, hopefully provide a little bit of scoring inside. Just a little bit," Lopez said about his role on the team when he returns.