Can the Phoenix Suns make the playoffs without shooting guard (and sometimes point guard) Leandro Barbosa, who went down with a hyper-extended left knee the other night against the Philadelphia 76ers and is now expected to be out for as many as 10 games?
The answer is probably not.
The Suns, 3 1/2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, already faced long odds. But to lose a guy who averaged 19.3 points a game over the last six contests (before he hobbled off the court against the Sixers) may prove too much for the Suns.
Phoenix is already without power forward Amar'e Stoudemire, gone for the rest of this season after detached-retina surgery, and Barbosa was one of the Suns who was really stepping up in his absence, lately increasing his point production by 5 points a game from his season average of 14.3.
The latest from team doctors is that Barbosa suffered a bone bruise, which can sometimes take longer to heal than a fracture. He was injured after coming down wrong on his left leg after a missed layup against Philly, a game in which the Suns looked impressive with a 126-116 win.
The prognosis is he'll be out from one to three weeks. If it's one, he could be back for the Utah Jazz game at US Airways Center on March 25. If it's three, which most experts believe it will at least be, based on how other players have healed with similar injuries, he wouldn't be back until the Suns play the Hornets at New Orleans on April 8. The team would have four more regular-season games, the last one at home against the Golden State Warriors on April 15.
Barbosa will certainly be healthy enough for the playoffs, his doctors say, but can the Suns make it to the post-season without their speed-demon sparkplug off the bench? They don't call Barbosa "The Blur" for nothing.
To even have an outside chance, other Suns will have upgrade their offense: notably Jason Richardson, who averages 17 points a game but who's been a streaky player since coming to the Suns from the Charlotte Bobcats, and Matt Barnes, who averages 10 but only scored 5 points in the Sixers game.
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Grant Hill, at 36, is already playing out of his mind. Mostly a defender in his old age, he's can't pick up the offensive slack that Barbosa leaves.
Unfortunately, the other Suns shooting guard is a work in progress, at best. Alando Tucker, once the Big-10 player of the year at Wisconsin, has been disappointing in limited playing time. A slasher in college, he's too height-challenged (he's listed at 6-6 on nba.com, but the league's got to be kidding!) -- plus not fast enough-- to make much of an impact in the pro game. His usual MO is to drive to the basket and have his shot blocked.
This leaves Jared Dudley. Coming to the Suns from the Bobcats in the Richardson trade, Dudley's been a powerhouse lately. He's a big, lumbering forward, where Barbosa's a gazelle-like guard, but he's been amazing off the bench in the last three games. He had 9 points in 20 energetic minutes against Philly, dazzling at moments when his teammates were lagging.
To make the playoffs, the Suns can only lose a game or two for the rest of the season, and the Mavericks must lose half of theirs. Since beating Phoenix on March 10, the Mavs have lost 3 of their last 5, while the Suns have won 3 of 3. There's still hope, but not much if Barbosa's out for three-plus weeks.