Before Patrick Beverley came along, Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic was easily Russell Westbrook’s arch-rival.
Dragic might still be a close second.
The bad blood between the two dates back to Dragic’s days in Houston, where Dragic still was an up-and-coming point guard trying to prove he belonged in the league. Fierce and frequent battles became the norm. The animosity reached its apex during a game in March 2012 in Oklahoma City. Westbrook charged at Dragic following a foul and the two had to be separated. Westbrook was called for a technical foul for his actions.
Intensifying the matchup has been Dragic’s unwillingness to back down.
“He got his own pride. I got my own pride,” Dragic explained. “He wants to win games and he wants to play good for his teammates and the same thing with me.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the intensity between the two is typical when two fierce competitors get together.
“They both are very aggressive players. They both compete, and they’re probably both highly competitive. I don’t know their guy, but I know Russell is. He doesn’t back down from any player. He doesn’t like 58 point guards in this league, and I like that. I like that about our players. We don’t necessarily disrespect our opponent, but we don’t have to particularly like them, either. And Russell is a player that competes against who’s in front of him. But Goran is an aggressive, hard-nosed (player). He doesn’t back down from anyone either. So it’s always been a very competitive battle.”
Despite their past dust-ups, Dragic voiced respect for Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
“They’re a really good team, one of the best in the league, and it’s always fun to play against Russell, against Durant, some of the best players in the league,” Dragic said. “If you play good against this kind of team you can put your name on the map. Maybe (the intensity) is because of that. But Russ is really an explosive guy, really strong at penetrating and he’s really hard to guard. Sometimes you have to be a little bit more physical to try to stop that penetration.”
Dragic also explained that he’s determined to stick in a dog-eat-dog business.
“It’s not only against him. It’s against everybody,” he said. “The NBA is really a tough league. Every year somebody else is coming for your spot. You have to defend yourself. You have to work hard for your spot. You’ve got 82 games and every game you have to play hard.”
HORNACEK FOR COACH OF THE YEAR?
Phoenix has exceeded all expectations this season by battling for a playoff spot, and the Suns’ success has placed coach Jeff Hornacek among the favorites for Coach of the Year.
“You give Coach Hornacek a lot of credit,” said Brooks, a former Coach of the Year. “He has come in here and put a system together and put their players in a position to execute every night. A lot of times you can listen to the noise out there and let it get to you, or you can ignore it and do what you do every day. And I think he has that approach. He puts their team in a position to win night in, night out.”
The Thunder will have an off day Monday before playing Sacramento on Tuesday...Derek Fisher started the second quarter in place of Andre Roberson. Roberson was not injured. Brooks made the adjustment to match up better with Suns guards Dragic and Eric Bledsoe...Fox Sports Oklahoma sideline reporter Leslie McCaslin lost her voice during the pregame show. Play-by-play man Brian Davis had to fill in during the second segment.