PHOENIX SUNS

Devin Booker’s Suns career began with a push (and more) from P.J. Tucker

Nov 16, 2017, 8:37 PM | Updated: Nov 17, 2017, 11:48 am
Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker (17) and Devin Booker (1) react to a foul call during the second half of ...
Phoenix Suns' P.J. Tucker (17) and Devin Booker (1) react to a foul call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX – During their two-plus seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Devin Booker and P.J. Tucker spent a lot of time apart as teammates. At least when it came to the basketball court and during practice, playing 5-on-5 full-court games.

The decision to separate the two on different teams in those scrimmages was by design.

“I think P.J. did a great job of helping Book establish who he was going to be in his career because he had a face a great defender every single day in practice,” said interim head coach Jay Triano, who previously was a Suns assistant coach.

The battles between Booker and Tucker would sometimes become heated. OK, a lot of the time. But, then that was to be expected between two competitors, neither willing to give an inch.

“There’s a lot of fights, a lot of pushing, a lot of arguing but it’s all out of love,” Booker said. “He used to always tell me, I’m here to push you, I’m here to get you to the best of your ability and that’s what he did. He was a great vet, taught me a lot of things on and off the court.”

Asked about their matchups prior to the Suns hosting the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Tucker smiled.

“I would take liberties (with him),” he said. “I would play mind-games with him. He’s a kid, so I would just mess with him a lot and he would get frustrated. He knew he couldn’t beat me up but he would just get frustrated and push (me) and whatever. He had heart, and now you see that; you know he can be a player.”

So, did the two ever come close to blows?

“Yeah, it got real in Mexico. It got really, real in Mexico after we lost (to Dallas last season),” Tucker said. “I was denying him the ball, manhandling him and he didn’t make any shots in practice so he was frustrated and it got to the point where he just had enough.”

To Booker, Tucker was like a big brother. And on Thursday the brothers were reunited.

Tucker, who signed with the Rockets in the offseason, made his first visit back to the city and arena he called home for four-plus seasons. The Suns had dealt Tucker to Toronto just prior to the February trade deadline.

The Raptors were the team that originally drafted Tucker in 2006. An assistant with Toronto at the time, Triano has seen Tucker grow from a second-round pick, 35th overall, to “a true professional” in the NBA.

“He found his niche in this league and was a valuable member of this organization,” he said, referring to the Suns.

Though Tucker does not start for the Rockets, he and Booker are expected to renew their on-court battles when they once again share the court, this time on the main floor at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“If it’s anything like the practices they had, it will be great basketball because they went at it in practice everyday,” Triano said, smiling.

A new starting lineup

For the second time in three games, Triano made a change to his starting lineup.

The change was a minor one, inserting center Greg Monroe in what was Monroe’s Suns debut.

“We are going to wait and see how he fits in with what we’re doing,” Triano said, “but the last couple of days in practice we played out of the post a little bit with him, sharing the basketball, making moves inside and we’re going to see how it fits.”

Part of the switch was out of necessity. Center Tyson Chandler stayed away from the arena on Thursday because of an illness. He will also skip the trip to L.A. and thus miss Friday’s game against the Lakers.

Another reason for the lineup change was based on the team’s recent performances.

Entering Thursday, the Suns had lost six of seven games, and they had been outscored in the first quarter in eight straight games, falling behind by an average of nearly nine points.

“I like the second unit together,” Triano said. “I think Dragan (Bender) and Alex (Len) play together well. I don’t think we’ve had great results with Marquese and Alex in that starting unit together, so I figured we got to get Greg some minutes and see where he is condition wise and trying to fit in with what we’re trying to do.”

Injury update(s)

Forward Jared Dudley missed a third straight game as he continues to rehab from a right knee contusion. He hurt the knee last Friday against Orlando. Dudley is expected to not see action again until late next week, at the earliest.

Derrick Jones Jr. and Alec Peters were also unavailable for the Rockets game. They were both with the Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA G League.

FREE THROWS

— The Suns and Northern Arizona University are now accepting nominations for the “Educator of the Month” program, an initiative designed to reward exceptional Arizona teachers for their outstanding work in the classroom and community.

High school students are encouraged to nominate their favorite teacher by submitting an application at suns.com/naueducator.

— The Suns are offering fans a chance to fast-break into the holiday shopping season with an “Early Black Friday Sale” exclusively on suns.com on Friday, Nov. 17 from 6 a.m. through midnight.

During the sale, fans will have the opportunity to purchase tickets at a discounted price of up to 50 percent off select November, December and January home games.

— On Sunday, Nov. 19, with the Chicago Bulls in town, the Suns will host “Superhero Day,” a kid-friendly theme night which will include fun pre-game activities including face painting, a bounce house and a super hero-themed photo booth.

The first 2,500 fans will receive a Suns superhero kid’s cape, courtesy of Takis.

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Devin Booker’s Suns career began with a push (and more) from P.J. Tucker