It looks like we’re nearing the part of the season where games with lottery implications become just as important as games between contenders in the upper half of the conference. The New Orleans Pelicans are three games behind the Suns in the fight for the number one pick, and not that any teams are necessarily trying to lose quite yet, but sometimes things happen and a team sort of loses and doesn’t mind.
Both teams (in the long-term, regardless of what their fans or aggressive owners might believe) would probably benefit from losing this game, even though it’s February and the trade deadline hasn’t altered the shape of the season much yet.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have been a very poor basketball team over the last two weeks. For the first forty or so games of the year, they could at least hang their hat on the defense, which settled in as a top-eight unit over that stretch. They’re down to ninth after a few dismal performances, but expect that number to keep falling unless something changes on the roster.
The defense is exploitable, even more than it was when the Suns hung 120 and 112 on them in two games early in the year.
On the other side, they are much less fearsome in that they tend to be inefficient, but an offense featuring Anthony Davis can never quite be ignored. They’ve leaned even harder into Davis-Jrue Holiday pick-and-roll action recently, where Holiday’s aggressiveness has given the Pelicans a second hand with which to throw jabs behind Davis’s haymakers.
However, if any of the Tyreke Evans/Donatas Motiejunas/Buddy Hield rotation player triumvirate can show more life on offense, the Pelicans can get back to respectability. They just haven’t been there recently.
Finally, the Pelicans are a completely healthy team, which is a shock if you’ve paid attention to this team’s injury history in recent years. Only Quincy Pondexter, who will likely miss his second consecutive season, is out tonight.
I care about nothing but Marquese Chriss right now. That he gets to battle Anthony Davis in the game directly following a 27-point explosion on Saturday night is unfortunate, but also might be incredible. I want to believe that Chriss can land some shots; we know the first quarter alley-oop is coming (also Davis mostly plays center now, so Chriss will be matched up against Terrence Jones and Dante Cunningham most of the time).
More noteworthy than anything Chriss did on Saturday was the fact that the Suns allowed the Milwaukee Bucks to shoot 63.4 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range. If the defense continues to allow teams to get to the paint on every possession, it won’t matter how inefficient the Pelicans’ offense is or how many points Marquese Chriss scores.
When teams at the bottom of the standings play each other in early February, strange things tend to happen. Considering the legitimate shortcomings of both squads, the Suns’ visit to New Orleans will probably look quite a bit like the high-scoring slobberknockers from November (remember Tim Frazier’s triple-double?).