By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Like every team in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder were hit hard with the news that TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager succumbed to his battle with Leukemia Thursday afternoon.
Friday after practice, the Thunder players had a chance to express their thoughts on the man they all grew up watching.
“I think he was an incredible ambassador for our league,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “If you look at how popular the league is now and where it came from, he was a part of all that. He was in everybody’s living room at home. I got a chance to talk to him quite a bit. These last couple of years when he was sick, he really made an impact on a lot of people. He made an impact on myself.”
Phoenix coach Earl Watson, who once played for the Thunder, also had nothing but high praise for Sager.
“Every genius, they’re not afraid of being who they are,” Watson told Azcentral.com. “He was a genius at his job, a genius at everything he’s done. We all embraced him. It’s like a great quote, I don’t know who said it: ‘Be who you are, the world will adjust.’ And he’s the greatest example of that.”
According to a Thunder official, they do have something special planned to honor Sager.
On the court, the Thunder (15-11) come into Saturday night’s contest with Phoenix riding a two-game losing streak. They fell to Portland and Utah on back to back nights earlier in the week.
However, both contests took place without guard Victor Oladipo, the team’s second-leading scorer. Oladipo took a hard fall against Boston last week that knocked the wind out of him. In the process, he hurt his right wrist, which is why he sat out the two games.
Without Oladipo, the Thunder are missing 16 points a game and the only other player outside of Russell Westbrook who can drive to the rim and make plays. But more importantly, they are missing their best defender in the back court.
“Defensively and offensively, he is a big part of our family,” Enes Kanter said. “Every game we need him bad. I just wish he gets well soon and gets to play with us.”
According to Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, Oladipo will be re-evaluated Friday to determine if he will be available to play against Phoenix.
Even though the Suns (8-18) own the third-worst record in the Western Conference, playing them shorthanded at the guard spot is not an ideal situation.
The combination of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, TJ Warren and Brandon Knight average 68.9 points.
Bledsoe has been especially dangerous for the Suns in the fourth quarter. Only Oklahoma City’s Westbrook has scored more points than Bledsoe in the clutch, which is the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with no team leading by more than five points.
“I’m just being more aggressive,” Bledsoe told ArizonaSports.com, “being confident; taking the shot and living with it.