Westbrook, Thunder look to light up Suns again (Mar 03, 2017)

Russell Westbrook meets up with one of his favorite teams for the third time this season Friday night when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Phoenix Suns.

In a bit of rare scheduling, not only will both teams be playing the second night of a back-to-back, but the Suns will get their second home game in as many nights when the Western Conference squads meet.

The Thunder and Suns have met twice previously this season, with three things in common: The games were played at Oklahoma City; the Thunder prevailed both times; and Westbrook was virtually unstoppable.

The NBA’s active leader in triple-doubles with 67 added two to his total in the earlier matchups, including a 51-point explosion in October that he complemented with 13 rebounds and 10 assists. The Thunder won the game 113-110 in overtime.

Westbrook was in more of a passing mode in the clubs’ December rematch, which Oklahoma City won 114-101. The All-Star recorded a career-best 22 assists to go with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

Spectators at the Talking Stick Resort Arena might expect to see a bit of a fatigued Westbrook, as he had to endure 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.

The 40-plus-point game was Westbrook’s third in a row, his second such three-peat this season. Coincidentally, his previous three-game run came immediately following his pass-happy, 22-assist game against the Suns in December.

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.”

McDermott and Gibson were acquired from the Chicago Bulls at the trade deadline in a five-player deal. Thursday’s loss was the Thunder’s first in four games since making the move.

With Enes Kanter scoring 18 points, Gibson 15 and McDermott nine, the Oklahoma City bench contributed 52 points to the defeat against the Trail Blazers.

That figure was nearly identical to the 53 accumulated by Phoenix reserves in its 120-103 home win over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night.

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 who combined for seven points in the December meeting, totaled 32 against the Hornets.

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.