The New Orleans Pelicans will not be out of the playoff conversation for long if they can keep rolling out the small-ball lineup the Suns had to deal with tonight.
Despite the efforts of Eric Bledsoe, who's efficient game made up for the struggles of backcourt-mate Brandon Knight, the Suns were unable to keep up with the frontcourt tandem of Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, who combined for 61 points on the night. Not only did the duo light up the scoreboard with their shooting and scoring, but they also forced the Suns to adjust by all but benching Tyson Chandler and Alex Len, as the Suns' centers combined for only 18 minutes.
With Markieff Morris filling in at the center spot and occupying himself with playing some tough defense on Davis all night, the Suns were caught without a rim protector and their defensive rotations were rudderless without their usual anchors in the middle. The Pelicans shot a modest 45% from the field (11-30 from 3) but were gifted an obscene 40 freethrows from Phoenix, and former Suns' sparkplug Ish Smith continuously got inside the lane, scoring 17 points on the night.
Bledsoe finished with 29 points (7/15 FG's), 7 rebounds and 6 assists as he continues to show a dramatic improvement at scoring from nearly everywhere on the floor. He missed most of the third quarter after heading to the locker-room -- no report yet on what the issue was.
Knight, on the other hand, struggled mightily with his shot, going 5/18 from the floor but still managed to pitch in 19 points (7-8 FT's). Markieff Morris battled through another subpar shooting night (17 points on 6/15 shooting), but had some very impressive defensive stops against Davis throughout the game. He deserves some big praise after this one.
The Suns fall to 7-6 despite shooting 17/36 from deep, with T.J. Warren going 3/3 all by himself. Things aren't getting any easier for the Suns, who face the Spurs Monday night and the Warriors after that.
The Pelicans began the game with Alonzo Gee guarding Brandon Knight, and Knight was off-target for the entire half. New Orleans built an early lead due largely to the Suns starting 5/18 from the field, but fortunately the Suns were able to establish a connection from deep, shooting 9/16 from beyond the arc. T.J. Warren led the way with a trio of 3-bombs, even if he still looks like he's more flinging the ball instead of shooting it, and Devin Booker, Mirza Teletovic and Eric Bledsoe all chipped in as well.
There were a few complications, however. Despite their accuracy from deep, the Suns shot only 5/29 on 2-point field goals, with Knight "leading" the way with a 0/8 performance from the field. The Pelicans were also no slouches from downtown, with Ryan Anderson doing his best Kevin Durant impression as he put up 18 first-half points on only 9 shots from the field (4-6 from 3).
It took a superhuman performance from Bledsoe to keep the Suns in the game, as he shouldered the load with an efficient 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Markieff Morris still had a less-than-stellar scoring night, but played excellent defense on Anthony Davis, as the Pelicans' star shot only 3/10 from the field. The lead seesawed for a bit as the half came to the close, with the Pelicans eventually laying claim to a slight 56-55 advantage heading into halftime.
The second half started on with a troubling development as Bledsoe headed to the locker-room just seconds into the third quarter. While he didn't appear to be in any physical discomfort, he still didn't return until the 2:37 mark of the quarter, the reasons for his departure remaining ambiguous.
Eric Bledsoe is about to check back in. Might've just needed to be stretched out. NO 80-74, 2:47 in 3rd. #SunsAtPelicans— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) November 23, 2015
Booker held down the fort during his absence en route to a career-high 15 points for the rookie, who mixed a number of buckets in the paint to go with his usual long-range shooting (1-1 from deep), but the Suns were again left scrambling by the hustling small-ball lineup from New Orleans as they again were forced to play Morris at the 5 to account for the roaming Anderson.
The Suns were able to reclaim the lead in the fourth quarter, but still couldn't find enough stops against the Pelicans frontcourt. Omer Asik was re-signed for $60 million this offseason -- for some reason -- and contributed 15 minutes and 0 points while his team was virtually unguardable without him on the floor.