Phoenix Suns’ Dragan Bender talks about the team’s win over the Dallas Mavericks in the last home game of the season, April 9, 2017. (Doug Haller/azcentral sports)
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Suns guard Devin Booker on why the Suns didn’t want Russell Westbrook to get a triple-double on their home floor.
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Thunder guard Russell Westbrook entered Phoenix on pace to average a triple-double for the season.
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Warriors star Stephen Curry talks about Wednesday’s win over the Suns.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the struggles plaguing the defending champions.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses earning respect from officials and his early aggressiveness in a loss to the Clippers on Thursday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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The arguments for and against Rockets star James Harden winning the MVP award.
USA TODAY Sports
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Ball and Fultz are two of the top prospects for the 2017 NBA draft.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses the Suns’ winless road trip after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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A look at how far NBA players once made it in the NCAA tournament.
USA TODAY Sports
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In the latest NBA Power Rankings, the Warriors are rolling, even without Kevin Durant. Meantime, the Clippers are struggling at the wrong time and the Nets are playing their best hoops of the season.
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Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker talks about his team’s loss against the Charlotte Hornets, March 26, 2017. (Doug Haller/azcentral sports)
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses his 70-point game against the Boston Celtics.
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Suns coach Earl Watson discusses his team’s shortage of players and how that is starting to weigh on them after Thursday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Suns forward Jared Dudley discusses recent team injuries and how that impacts a team resting a few star players, following Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Dan Bickley and Mark Faller discuss the Indiana job opening, which could pull Steve Alford away from UCLA, and whether the Bruins would pursue Suns’ head coach Earl Watson. Video: azcentral sports
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NBA players who have tallied the most points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals in a single game this season.
USA TODAY Sports
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In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Russell Westbrook is leading the Thunder to a strong finish in the regular season.
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Suns point guard Tyler Ulis reacts to Friday’s home loss to the Magic.
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Kent Somers and Jay Dieffenbach discuss the Suns’ decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season and the possibility of them getting UCLA’s Lonzo Ball? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick tells us why the Spurs will be hard-pressed to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
USA TODAY Sports
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HoopsHype writer Alex Kennedy discusses some of the players who will be free agents this summer.
USA TODAY Sports
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Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams watches his mother, Jeri Williams, sworn in as Phoenix police chief in Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Paul Coro/azcentral sports)
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Hosted by head coach Earl Watson, who says the Suns “embrace and celebrate our youth.” Video: Phoenix Suns
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Dragan Bender on Suns win over Mavericks
Booker on Westbrook’s triple-double search: ‘Just didn’t want it to be here’
Russell Westbrook chases history
Stephen Curry on win over Suns
Cavaliers are struggling in a major way
Devin Booker on Suns loss to Clippers
James Harden for MVP: Pros and Cons
Lonzo Ball vs. Markelle Fultz: Tale of the tape
Jared Dudley on Suns loss to Hawks
How far NBA players made it in NCAA tournament
NBA Power Rankings: Warriors surging ahead of playoffs
Devin Booker on Suns’ fall to Hornets
Devin Booker on his 70-point night
Earl Watson after Suns’ loss to Nets
Jared Dudley on Suns’ loss to Heat
Shot Clock: Would Earl Watson leave the Suns if the UCLA job were to open up?
NBA’s best statistical performances so far in 2016-17
NBA Power Rankings: Russell Westbrook continues to carry Thunder
Tyler Ulis on Suns’ loss to Magic
Shot Clock: Eric Bledsoe is out, maybe UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is in?
Why the Spurs desperately need the No. 1 seed
Big-name free agents this summer
Alan Williams watching his mother’s police chief ceremony
Suns ’embrace youth’ in WeArePHX ‘Momentum’ video
Before the final home game of the regular season, Earl Watson was asked to name an area in which guard Devin Booker has showed the most growth. The Suns coach had trouble picking just one. Instead, he rattled off several.
Scoring in the post. Scoring off the dribble. Scoring at the rim. The back-to-back 39-point games in Mexico City. The 70-point outburst in Boston. And more recently, stealing the moment from Russell Westbrook as the Oklahoma City guard tried to secure his record-breaking 42nd triple-double.
“You have a young guy who’s quietly having a historical year that is going to be talked about later once he reaches his peak,” said Watson, adding that it seems like the rest of the country just recently caught on to what those in Phoenix have known for a while.
“I guess they all decided to watch (Friday night) because Russ could have broken the record,” Watson said. “It was the perfect timing for Devin to take the stage and capture it.”
Aside from Boston, no team has struggled to stop Booker more than Dallas. On Jan. 12, Booker scored 39 points against the Mavericks in a loss in Mexico City, a franchise-record 28 coming in the fourth quarter. On March 11, Booker scored 36, including a step-back winning jumper right before the buzzer.
Sunday followed a similar script.
BOX SCORE: Suns 124, Mavericks 111
Booker hit his second shot, a 3-pointer on the left side that bumped him up a spot on an impressive list. With 2,756 career points, Booker passed Kobe Bryant for most points scored before a player’s 21st birthday. The top three: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Not bad company.
“He’s a great scorer for his age, for sure,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the top scorers at his position, which is really saying something in this league at the 2-spot. (And) he’s a very underrated playmaker.”
This doesn’t surprise Carlisle. Last summer, he visited USA Basketball’s training camp in Las Vegas to check on Dallas forward Harrison Barnes. Booker, a part of USA Basketball’s Select Team, was there for five days, training against the Olympic squad.
“On one of the gyms they were working out on, I saw Booker,” Carlisle said. “He was there every night for hours just working on stuff. He’s wired to try to be great, there’s no doubt in my mind, and he’s on his way.”
Against the Mavericks on Sunday, Booker showed off his playmaking, finding forward T.J. Warren (21 points) for a 3-point play. Later, he fired a pass to rookie Dragan Bender at the rim. The rookie forward missed the easy shot, but rebounded and scored as the Suns built a 68-65 halftime lead.
Booker shot 6 of 11 in the first half, scoring 17 points. He played just three minutes in the second half, finishing with 21 points and three assists. Even without him, the Suns cruised, defeating Dallas 124-111 for their second win in a row.
Rookie Tyler Ulis had 20 points and 10 assists. Rookie Derrick Jones Jr. scored a season-high 15 points. At 24-57 – tied with the Lakers for fewest wins in the Western Conference – the Suns wrap up the regular season Tuesday in Sacramento.
“It felt really good, finishing off the win after a long season,” Booker said. “It leaves a lasting impression on the home fans here. We’re building. We have to take this summer seriously.”
The question moving forward: What should everyone expect the next time Booker takes the court in downtown Phoenix? For the ultra-talented, Year 3 is often a transition season – from good to great.
“He’s heading to be an All-Star,” said Suns television analyst Tom Chambers, who held the single-game scoring record (with 60 points) until Booker caught fire in Boston. “He’s got everything it takes — the shooting, going to the basket, he’s figured out how to get to the free-throw line.”
RELATED: What have we learned during Suns’ youth evaluation period?
It’s an interesting time for Valley sports. On the ice, Coyotes star Shane Doan may have played the last game of his NHL career. On the football field, Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald might be preparing for his final season. Across the street Sunday, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt still was going strong – getting two more hits – but his Valley future may be tied to team success.
Booker, 20, could be next in line. Before Sunday’s game, as he finished his pregame work, Booker stopped to sign autographs. A short crowd swelled to more than 50. Booker posed with children, gave a man a high-five and signed a basketball. After the contest, as the Suns fired miniature basketballs into the crowd as a final-game thank you, a similar scene unfolded.
“He’s grown immensely,” said Chambers, one of 15 in the Suns’ Ring of Honor. “And for being 20 years old, it’s awesome. We’ve talked about it all year – and even last year – about how mature he is. Even last year, just coming into the league, he got it. He understood it. He’s figured it out off the court, too, to where fans will embrace him. He’ll be the face of this franchise.”
Booker said he’s ready for the responsibility.
“With how I was raised, I’m built for this situation,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that go into it that I feel really comfortable with. I worked hard each and every day to get in this situation, and I think there’s a lot more to go.”
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller.