A cautious man might take a few more days, a few more games, and give his painful ribs a chance to settle down.
Allow himself a chance to take the court without the basketball version of a flak jacket, which he will wear tonight when the Suns return from a rare five-day, in-season hiatus.
But to Raja Bell, enough time and enough games have been lost already.
A Manu Ginobili forearm led to his stretched rib cartilage in San Antonio on Nov. 8 and cost him two games. But that doesn’t include the handful of games he played at less-than-top shape after a lingering calf injury — the one he suffered in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — hampered his offseason conditioning schedule.
So Bell pushed hard during the week off — working on his wind even though his ribs burned. It didn’t hurt that the Suns play Philadelphia tonight and travel to Utah Saturday — since the 76ers and Jazz are two of his former teams he takes pride in playing against.
“It’s going to hurt for a while, but it’s well enough to play,” Bell said. “You feel the soreness all the time, but certain torque motions send a shock through that area."
Bell's medical wrap gives him a "foreign feeling. It's like something is holding you down. But I’ll get used to it.”
The question is how Bell, whose penchant for giving up his body and creating contact on defense is second nature, can play his game and still protect the injury.
When the opportunity to step in front of a defender and take a charge presents itself, will he be able to resist the temptation?
“It’s easier said than done,” Bell said. “I’d like to think that I’ll get out of the way, but it’s what I do and it will be hard. Hopefully, it’s not in the cards for me to get injured further. But if I can’t play the way I play, I might as well sit.”
Bell isn’t the only one gutting through pain.
Steve Nash couldn’t finish practice for the second time in four days because of back problems, but coach Mike D’Antoni called it a precaution and expects Nash to play. “I saw him holding (his back) and told him to go get some treatment,” he said. “We don’t need to push that. He should be fine to go.”
If so, the Suns will have what they expect to be their eight-man rotation moving forward — with Kurt Thomas backing up big men Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion and Amaré Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa and Jalen Rose subbing for Bell and Nash. That leaves out Marcus Banks and James Jones, who started the season as regular subs.
“We’re not punishing anyone and we know we have a lot of good players,” D’Antoni said. “But we’re 2-5 and we’ve got to get going. We’re going to try this and see where it takes us. It’s not set in stone, but it’s where we are now.”
This is Phoenix’s longest in-season break since they swept Memphis in the first round of the 2005 playoffs (May 1, 2005) and sat for eight days before beating Dallas in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals (May 8) . . .
Stoudemire turned 24 on Thursday and was presented with a cake and a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from his teammates after practice. Stoudemire is working through a chest cold but will play.
Suns vs. 76ers
Series record: The Suns have won 17 of the last 19 meetings in Phoenix between the two teams and are 35-15 overall at home.
Sixers update: Philadelphia snapped a three-game losing streak with a 96-90 win in Seattle on Wednesday. Ex-University of Arizona star Andre Iguodala had a strong game with 12 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block, while Allen Iverson led the scoring with 28 points. Chris Webber, playing a reduced role early in the season, has been sitting out the fourth quarter and played only 23 minutes in Seattle.
Suns update: The Suns need back-to-back wins over the 76ers and in Utah Saturday just to match last year’s 4-5 start.. . . Raja Bell (ribs) and Steve Nash (back) expect to play.