Preview: Suns vs. Thunder, 6:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona
When the Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder meet for a third time this season on Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Suns are hoping to rewrite the script from the previous two meetings.
The Suns had no answer for Thunder star and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook in the two earlier encounters.
Westbrook, the league’s active leader in triple-doubles with 67, had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Oklahoma City’s 113-110 overtime victory back in October, and he followed that with 26 points, a career-best 22 assists and 11 rebounds in a 114-101 win in December.
Suns fans can only hope that Westbrook will be a little fatigued after playing 37 tough minutes in a 114-109 loss at Portland on Thursday night. He scored 45 points in the loss, but he put his right arm through an extensive workout with 36 shots, including 16 3-point attempts. He made just 12 shots overall, six of them 3-pointers.
Thunder newcomers Doug McDermott (37 minutes) and Taj Gibson (33 minutes) both also worked up quite a sweat in Thursday’s loss. They were part of a new-look bench that for the first time also featured Norris Cole, who was signed off the unemployed ranks this week.
Cole, who began the season in China before returning home looking for a job in December, scored seven points in 11 minutes in his Oklahoma City debut.
“I think he understands what he’s walking into and what he’s got to do,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said about Cole’s role. “It will take some time. I think he understands that.”
Like the Thunder, the Suns’ bench crew has a vastly different look than when the clubs last saw each other in December. Alan Williams (16 points), Tyler Ulis (eight) and Derrick Jones Jr. (eight), three little-used youngsters earlier in the season, combined for 32 points in Thursday night’s 120-103 victory over Charlotte. Williams also had 12 rebounds
Ulis, who played 23 minutes, also found time for a season-best eight assists.
“Our second unit played phenomenal,” Suns coach Earl Watson said after the club’s first home game since the All-Star break. “Tyler Ulis changed the game.”
The Thunder has beaten the Suns six times in a row, including a season-series sweep last year.
The Suns will honor long-time broadcaster Al McCoy prior to the game, inducting him into the Ring of Honor.