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Game Preview: Suns, Thunder take back seat to Al McCoy Ring of Honor Ceremony

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Get on down to Talking Stick Resort Arena to watch the great Al McCoy get inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor as Suns take on Thunder

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, Al McCoy Ring of Honor Induction

When: 7:00 PM Tipoff, Halftime ceremony

Where: Downtown Phoenix, Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports/KTAR


Sure there’s a game to play, as Mr. Triple Double himself - 30 of them this year! - Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Phoenix Suns.

Al McCoy Ring of Honor

But most of all, this is a chance to celebrate the greatest radio play-by-play announcer of all time - at least in my hometown heart. Al McCoy, now 83 years old, has been calling Suns games for 44 years - the longest tenure of any play-by-play guy in NBA history. Most of the older Suns fans know there was a different play-caller in their youth, but likely can’t even remember what that guy sounded like.

It’s a great honor to be a part of Suns lore. He should know, as he told it to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

“I have emceed every one of the guys up there,” McCoy said. “I said at the time (of the announcement), ‘What am I going to do, record my own intro?’ ”

Here’s how far back McCoy goes. His fifth season calling Suns games was a gift - calling an NBA Finals series between the Suns and the vaunted Boston Celtics.

Asked to name his top games, McCoy doesn’t hesitate. Phoenix’s triple-overtime loss to the Celtics in Game 5 of the 1976 Finals – considered one of the better games ever played – is at the top of the list, as is the triple-overtime win over the Bulls in Game 3 of the 1993 Finals.

McCoy will be the 15th member of the Ring.

Don’t miss this folks! Buy your tickets to the game tonight - the secondary market and even primary market have really good deals!

The Thunder (35-26, 7th in West)

Of course, Russell Westbrook would love to ruin Suns fans nights by posting another 40-point triple double in his one-man-show attempt to get the Thunder into the playoffs without Durant.

This box score from last night in Portland is eye-popping.

Westbrook took 36 shots. The rest of the starters: 11.

Looking at this might reinforce your thinking that Westbrook is a ball hog and/or that the Thunder are trash outside of the superstar, and you might be right.

But Westbrook is also averaging a triple ON THE SEASON, which includes assists. He’s putting up 31.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.1 assists for this season. No one has done this in 55 years! Oscar Robertson is the only other NBA player EVER to average a triple-double for the season, back in 1961-62 when the NBA was a much higher-scoring league with more possessions per game.

And Westbrook has been passing like crazy for years now. He averaged 10.4 assists last year, with Kevin Durant on the team, as the Thunder nearly made the NBA Finals (lost a 3-1 lead to the Warriors), and 8.6 assists the year before.

“He is the motor of their team,” Suns guard Devin Booker said of Westbrook. “A real special player, something that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

The rest of the Thunder are a mishmash of youth and journeymen. Rookies Domantas Sabonis (20 years old) and Alex Abrines (23) are in that starting lineup posted above, though Victor Oladipo (24) is the usual back court mate for Russ and the team’s second-leading scorer (16.1 PPG). Jerami Grant (22) comes off the bench. Steven Adams (23) and Andre Roberson (25) round out the group.

New arrivals Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott (from Chicago) lead the bench crew along with Enes Kanter, just returned from injury.

Semaj Christan (24) is a 3rd rookie who’s gotten rotation minutes for the Thunder this season, though he’s been on D-League assignment some of 2017.

The Suns (19-42, tied for 2nd in reverse standings)

All the youth you can reasonably stomach!

For the 4th straight game, the Suns played their cadre of young players and this time they scored a huge victory at home over the Hornets.

It was a bench unit including Tyler Ulis (8 points, 8 assists), Alan Williams (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Derrick Jones Jr. (8 points, 2 steals and 2 blocks) that broke the game open in the second half.

“Our second unit played phenomenal,” coach Earl Watson said after the game. “Tyler Ullis changed the game.”

“I feel like I was big part of our win,” Ulis said. “When you share the ball good things happen. When you talk defensively good things happen. I feel like that’s why we succeeded today.”

While the Thunder can claim one of the youngest NBA teams in the league, the Suns go one step further with Marquese Chriss (19), Airplane Mode (20), Devin Booker (20), Tyler Ulis (21), T.J. Warren (23), Alex Len (23 and Big Sauce (24) as 7 players 24-and-under in the Suns current 10-man rotation. It’s a real shame Dragan Bender (19) can’t be out there too.

“They competed, man,” Hornets forward Marvin Williams said of the Suns. “I mean they’re well coached. They’re young and they’re learning how to win but the one thing I know about Earl is his guys are going to compete and that’s what they did. They competed harder than we did and that’s why they won.”

Another interesting development is that the Suns now have five straight games with 22+ assists. This is a welcome sight for a team averaging only 19.1 per game on the whole season.

“That’s a positive number for us,” Watson said.

Key matchup

Rookie forward Marquese Chriss has played all season against the league’s best power forwards, from Blake Griffin to Derrick Favors to Anthony Davis to LaMarcus Aldridge and so on.

So it’s a nice break for him to play against a power forward more his age and experience level. Last night, he largely matched up against Frank Kaminsky Jr. and Cody Zeller, and last week he got to go up against Bobby Portis.

Tonight, he gets Domantas Sabonis, picked three spots after Chriss and traded to the Thunder to replace Serge Ibaka. Both have had basically the same exact role all season - full time starter, but limited to about 20 minutes per game.

Chriss has had the better season, both on a per-game basis...

and per-36

While Sabonis has had a much more enjoyable winning environment and will almost certainly get to start in a playoff series this year.

Let’s see how they match up tonight!

Prediction

It’s tough to predict anything but a Thunder victory but let me try:

  • I predict Al McCoy will get a really enjoyable Ring of Honor ceremony
  • I predict Marquese Chriss will outplay Domantas Sabonis
  • I predict Watson sticks with the kids, and they give us a few real highlights!

How about them predictions?

What predictions do you have?