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Game Preview: Will the Suns finally shine in New Orleans?

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Expect nothing to come easy in The Big Easy.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Game: Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans

The Time: 5:00 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The Pelicans started the season hot with a 4-0 win streak but then got hit by the injury bug and lost their next six games before finally ending that streak against Chicago on Wednesday night. When the Suns hit their court today, the Pelicans will be mostly - if not completely - back to full strength. At this point, the only remaining question mark in the Pelicans’ starting lineup is former Sun, Elfrid Payton. Payton has been sidelined with a badly sprained ankle since Oct. 27 and might be back for the Suns game but nothing is certain so far.

Regardless of whether Payton plays, the Pels are tied for 7th in the NBA in offensive rating (111.0) and 4th in points per game (117.5) while the Suns are ranked 30th in OffRtg (100.3) and 29th in PPG (101.4). Offensively the Suns are simply outclassed by New Orleans so getting into a shooting match with them will likely be a wasted effort.

Defensively the Suns and - surprisingly - the Pelicans are both bad though. New Orleans and Phoenix are 26th and 27th in defensive rating (112.3 and 112.6 respectively) and the Pels actually average giving up more points per game than the Suns (118.6 vs 114.0).

Although I already mentioned that getting into a shooting match with the Pels wouldn’t be a wise strategy, doing just that and hoping that the Suns are hot from downtown tonight might be their best chance at getting a win. And if - IF - they put the same sort of effort into this game as they did against the Celtics on Thursday night... perhaps they could surprise us and New Orleans.

The Pelicans

Probable starting lineup: Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Wesley Johnson, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis.

It’s almost impossible to think of the Pelicans and not think of Anthony Davis. As usual, Davis leads the Pels - or is one of the team leaders - in almost every statistical category. First in points, rebounds, blocks and steals and third in assists. He’s even hitting 38.9% of his three point attempts. The only thing that has even slowed him down this season was an elbow sprain that sidelined him for three games. He’s fine now and will probably be looking to school Suns rookie Deandre Ayton in this game.

Toss in Nikola Mirotic (20.6 ppg and 11.7 rpg) and Julius Randle (17.6 ppg and 7.3 rpg) coming off the bench and it could be a very long night for the Suns’ frontcourt. As I was writing this, I just found out that Mirotic is listed as “questionable” for the Suns game due to an ankle sprain. If he is out tonight, it’s a significant blow to the Pelicans.

In the backcourt, there’s Jrue Holiday who has been moved back to point guard during Elfrid Payton’s injury induced six game absence. Holiday hasn’t forgotten how to distribute the ball and is averaging 8.8 assists per game as well as 18.7 ppg and 1.5 steals. E’Twaun Moore at shooting guard can’t be ignored either as he is hitting 47.2% of his three point attempts. Our old friend, Smiling Wes Johnson rounds out the Pelcans’ starting five at small forward. Wes is also shooting very well from three (46.2%) but is otherwise the same old Wes that some of you may remember from the 2012-13 Suns team.

Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic are both listed as game-time decisions.

UPDATE:

Team Leaders

Points: Anthony Davis (24.4)

Rebounds: Anthony Davis (12.0)

Assists: Jrue Holiday (8.8)

The Suns

Probable starting lineup: Isaiah Canaan, Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren and Deandre Ayton.

Less than 48 hours after playing heavy minutes in the Celtics game, the Suns starters will probably not be up to averaging 41.4 minutes each again and stay effective for long. The effort they put into that game wore them down near the end and even the younger guys like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton will not be able to completely rest and replenish their bodies before they hit the court in the Smoothie King Center.

That means that Igor Kokoskov is going to have to put a little more trust in his bench and strategically rest his starters more throughout this game. Who is he going to place that trust in? Mikal Bridges, Richaun Holmes and Elie Okobo seem to be the most deserving of extra time but the Pelicans’ frontcourt is the biggest challenge for the Suns. I just don’t believe that Ryan Anderson or Dragan Bender can contribute significant minutes against the Pels. If Mirotic is out, that will soften the need for better frontcourt bench-play but it could still be a problem if foul trouble arises.

Jrue Holiday could also give the Suns problems in the backcourt. He’s not been shooting threes that well this season (20.0%) but that’s an anomaly (35.6% career 3P%) and he is solid scorer and a very good distributor. It will be interesting to see who gets Holiday as their defensive assignment.

Even with reduced court time (hopefully), Booker and T.J. Warren will again need strong scoring numbers for the Suns to stick around in this game. Deandre Ayton will also have to rise to the occasion with a solid double-double and at least make Anthony Davis work for his points.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (26.5)

Rebounds: Deandre Ayton (10.8)

Assists: Devin Booker (6.4)

Summary

At full strength, I believe that the Pelicans’ offense is just too strong for the Suns to match. But if Mirotic - NO’s second leading scorer and rebounder - sits out then the Suns might just have a chance. Neither team plays strong defense so expect an offensive showdown. I’m afraid that tired legs for the Suns will play a role in this one and further diminish the Suns’ chances at getting their third win of the season.

Pelicans 106 - Suns 93.

If you want the opposition’s point of view, check out the game preview from The Bird Writes.