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Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans: Exciting contest features Anthony Davis and early playoff implications

The Phoenix Suns make their third stop on a four game road trip to take on the team with the stupidest name (Pelicans), most ridiculous arena naming rights (Smoothie King Center) and quite possibly the best player in the NBA (Anthony Davis).

This guy is really good.
This guy is really good.
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When: Tuesday December 30, 2014, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 ET)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

Watch/Listen: TV: FOX Sports Arizona  Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM


Last Meeting:

This is the first of three meetings between the Suns and Pelicans this season. Two of the three games will be played at the Smoothie King Center.

Last season the Suns swept the series 3-0 with two games played at US Airways Center. The last of those games was played on April 9th at the Smoothie King Center with the Suns grinding out a 94-88 victory. The Suns will get a much different look from the Pelicans this time around, though, since Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik didn't participate in that game.

Team Bios:

New Orleans Pelicans: 15-15

Points per game: 101.6 (15th) Points allowed: 102.0 (22nd)

ORtg: 109.0 (8th) DRtg: 109.4 (26th)

Full team statistics.

The Pelicans are led by some kid named Anthony Davis.

The 21 year old prodigy has already propelled himself to superstar status this season and is one of the early favorites to win the league MVP award, which would make him the youngest player in history to do so (Derrick Rose).

Davis is third in the league in scoring (24.6), fifth in FG% (.566), ninth in rebounds (10.2), 17th in steals (1.7), first in blocks (3.0), first in PER (32.5) and first in WS/48 (.286).

Considering he is not possessed of some of the unseemly qualities of other players in the pantheon of the NBA, Davis is pretty much the total package.

Of course there are other players on the team, too. Jrue Holiday has returned from a 2013-14 campaign stymied by injury and is back to putting up borderline all-star numbers (15.5 points, 7.2 assists). Similarly, Ryan Anderson is back after missing nearly all of last season and is putting up fairly solid numbers (15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds) off the bench, but is averaging a career low .332 from three point range. Tyreke Evans is once again filling up the box score with averages of 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, that is about where the meaningful contributions end. Omer Asik is averaging a robust 10.1 rebounds per game, but no other player on the team (not including injured Eric Gordon) is averaging more than 7.6 points per game.

The Pelicans have a couple solid wins in their past six games, besting both the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs in that span. Surprisingly, a team that boasts the interior presence of Anthony Davis struggles on the defensive end, where the team ranks a disappointing 26th in defensive rating. Anderson's struggles from long distance are symptomatic of a larger problem on the team, as New Orleans is also 26th in three point field goals this season.


Phoenix Suns: 18-14

Points per game: 105.7 (5th) Points allowed: 103.7 (25th)

ORtg: 108.7 (10th) DRtg: 106.6 (16th)

Full team statistics.

The vicissitudes of a NBA season can be quite amazing. After a six game losing streak threatened to imperil the team's playoff hopes the Suns have now reeled off six consecutive wins and appear to be in it for the long haul.

The culmination of absurdly bad luck in the form of bounce-in buzzer beaters by Blake Griffin and Khris Middleton combined with injuries to Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic staggered the team for a stretch, but the Suns have regained their equanimity and are back to firing on all cylinders.

The Suns are now 15-7 when all three of Thomas, Dragic and Eric Bledsoe play and coach Jeff Hornacek has been increasingly using the trio to close out games. The trident attack has been employed in the fourth quarter of each of the team's last six victories with dazzling success. Not only does this strategy appear to give the Suns great scoring threats, ball handling and free throw shooting in crunch time, but the team has been able to exert enough energy in short bursts to overcome potential shortcomings with defense and rebounding.

For a plethora of juicy statistics on the Suns recent offensive explosion and the lineups that are clicking check out Dave King's story yesterday and make sure to go through the comments for more great insight by staff writer Jacob Padilla and member DrumBeat. They have delineated everything to perfection.

The Suns game plan is starting to crystallize as well, as the team is now fifth in the league in pace, fifth in scoring, second in three point attempts and eighth in three point shooting %. Phoenix Suns basketball.

The Suns are now 6-1 since Alex Len was inserted in the starting lineup. The team's center of the future is averaging 9.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks over this stretch.

What To Watch For:

Anthony Davis: Mostly just to watch the ascendance of one of the next truly great players in the NBA. The Suns don't really have anyone to match up against Davis, but nobody else does, either.

Deep Depth: The Suns are second in the league in bench scoring at 43.4 points per game and are +8.4 over their opponents this season. Thomas, Gerald Green and Marcus Morris should dominate the likes of Austin Rivers, Luke Babbitt and Dante Cunningham for the top heavy Pelicans.

The Trident Attack: If this game is close the fourth quarter will be captivating television for Suns fans as they keenly study the developing chemistry and guard play that composes the team's triumvirate of terror. Add in the emergence of Alex Len and the sometimes overlooked but incredibly efficient play of Markieff Morris and Phoenix could be burgeoning into one of the league's best clutch teams.

The Final Word(s):

This game already carries playoff implications since the Pelicans appear to be a team the Suns will be competing with for a playoff berth. Getting an early advantage in a head-to-head tiebreaker scenario may be huge down the road. A win/loss here also counts double in the standings. With a back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder looming this would be a huge win.

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