By: Daniel Banks,
Posted: May 17, 2010

Robin Lopez sat in the visitor's lockerroom in the Staples Center as his coach addressed the team Monday morning before Game 1.

"We're going to start Robin and, Robin, you'll guard Gasol," Coach Alvin Gentry declared. The second year player was on the verge of the first playoff game of his career.

Lopez knew it was coming. He'd been rehabbing a back injury since the beginning of the playoffs and in the week-long break before the Western Conference he had rejoined full contact practices.

"I feel like my wind has been improving, my legs are getting stronger," Lopez said of his week of practice. "I think a lot of the guys enjoy the rest, but I've been able to get my wind back and feel out the floor."

His return to action couldn't have come at a better time. The Lakers dominated the Utah Jazz with their bigs and the Suns desperately need his defense - if not merely his height - if they hope to avoid the same fate.

Lopez did his part to solve the Suns "big" problem in their 21-point Game 1 loss. He managed 24 minutes and scored 14 points while grabbing six boards. He missed only one shot from the floor. Gasol did score 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting but posted only four boards including just one offensive rebound.

After the game, one reporter observed that it was like he played as if he hadn't missed any time. Robin insisted it was because of the work his teammates put in last week. "They made me feel comfortable and helped me prepare. I knew where I needed to be." His basketball insticts have returned, and his conditioning is not far behind.

There was no celebration for Robin's return. The loss means the Suns still have work to do to answer the likes of Odom, Gasol, and Bynum. But he would be the last one to make a scene of his debut because he doesn't consider it his first game. "I feel like I've been out there with the guys all along," he explains.

But now he's playing not watching, in a jersey not a suit, and hungry for his first ever playoff victory.


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