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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns face New Orleans Pelicans yet again, hoping for different result

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The Pelicans have used Suns games to climb back into the Western Conference race, but now the Suns can turn the tables a bit by closing out a win tonight.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host New Orleans Pelicans

When: Friday, 8:30PM tipoff (late!)

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix Arizona

TV: ESPN (national), Fox Sports Arizona (local)

Radio: 98.7 FM ArizonaSports

The Phoenix Suns have to be frustrated with their season, but an even more frustrated team might even be the New Orleans Pelicans.

Awful start to middling middle for Pels

The Pellies got off to a rough, rough start under coach Alvin Gentry. The start was blamed almost entirely on injury, with rotation players Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Jrue Holiday and even Kendrick Perkins missing significant early time.

The Pelicans who DID play - centered around MVP contender Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, along with super-find Ish Smith - couldn't defend anyone and even had trouble scoring. The result was a 1-12 start that basically doomed the season.

Since that 1-12 start, the Pellies are 6-6 with wins over the Suns (2), Wizards, Jazz and big wins over the Spurs and Cavaliers. Their losses are not bad, considering this has been a murderous stretch. They lost to the Jazz (with Gobert), Celtics, Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Bulls and Blazers.

Have the Pelicans turned the corner into a playoff contender?

Maybe, but their defense is still the very worst in the NBA (ranked 30th, giving up 110 points per 100 possessions) and their offense is still just mid-pack.

Tyreke Evans has returned strong (15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists per game) as a main playmaker, but that's minimized the shock value of Ish Smith in the Pelicans lineups (6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 three-pointers) in the same time span.

Jrue Holiday's minutes are up, but he's not nearly the same player as when he was a Sixer. Eric Gordon's role has regressed a bit too, since Evans' return, with only 11 points and 2 assists per game over the last 10. Omer Asik has been a non-factor all season.

Anthony Davis is a monster though, with 23 points and 11 rebounds per game over the last 10. He's been playing a lot of center in Gentry's fast paced offense. Ryan Anderson has been the main PF lately, putting up 16 points and pulling down 6.3 rebounds per game, though he's clearly on the trading block and been a DNP-CD occasionally.

Suns-Pelicans first and second meetings

Those were doozies. They woke up the Pellies, but knocked the Suns so hard they have not yet recovered. The Pelicans record since first tipping off against the Suns: 5-6. The Suns record in that same span: 4-11. Ugly.

The revenge of Ish was strong in the first two meetings, with Smith putting up a near triple double each time

  • 17 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds in game 1
  • 20 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds in game 2

Other great Pelicans in those meetings - Anthony Davis (of course) and Ryan Anderson. Of those three stars, though, both Ish and Anderson's roles on the Pellies have diminished since.

Tyreke Evans was a beast last year, especially against the Suns. He's a bigger Eric Bledsoe, basically, and is better when handling the ball most of the time.

If the Pelicans win this game, it will be a great showing by Evans - not Smith - that will seal the deal.

Suns

After experiencing a mini-resurgence with 3 wins in 4 games last week, the Suns have crashed back to earth with ugly, blowout losses to bad-matchup Mavericks and supernova Warriors. You can't worry about the Warriors loss, but the Mavericks loss was just another example of "which Suns team will we get tonight?".

The Markieff Morris trade watch continues, with the Suns remaining mum while Morris rots on the bench. There's no need to dump Morris for scraps. He's been a model citizen off the court - great with coaches, teammates and media - so he's really not being a distraction as the Suns put together the best trade package for him.

Notable - maybe - is that last night the Suns cancelled their usual game-day shoot around this morning, rescheduling it to just before tonight's game. They also cancelled practice on Saturday, and the Sunday game is a midday game so no shoot-around there either. The net result is that the only media availability for the Suns this weekend is game-related.

Without Morris in the lineup, and with Chandler out a lot of the past month with injury, the Suns are still trying to find any combination of positive lineups with staying power.

Take a look at the only 5-man combos with 20+ minutes together this season.

Suns-5-man-combos

Only two of them have a positive net point differential while on the court together. You'll see that the top one was the season-opening starting lineup. They had a good mix, but that won't be happening again any time soon.

The new starting lineup with Alex Len and Jon Leuer in place of Morris and Chandler has a slight positive, but not great.

After that, you'll notice that a Leuer/Chandler combo hasn't been great. In fact, it's been bad. But Chandler's been less than 100%, so we can give them some slack. Here's hoping when Chandler gets healthy, the Suns will find some consistency across the lineups.

Prediction

(shrug)

I have no clue what will happen tonight. That's how unpredictable the team has been. It's certainly in their best interest to win as many of these next five as possible, with four of them at home.

Let's be the bright side and predict a 110-104 win for the Suns.