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Game Preview: 18-43 Phoenix Suns at 33-26 New Orleans Pelicans

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Expect nothing to come easy for the Suns in the Big Easy.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Game: Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans

The Time: 6:00 pm (Phoenix time)

The Video: Fox Sports Arizona, NBA TV

The Audio: 98.7 FM


I have some very good - although slightly hazy - memories from my last visit to New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Suns aren’t going there for Mardi Gras or the excellent Cajun cuisine and I doubt that they will find one of my favorite cities quite as inviting as I have.

Despite losing one of their best two players for the rest of the season (DeMarcus Cousins) and playing with a roster that on paper seems to be not well put together, the Pelicans are making it work and work well. At 33-26 they are presently tied with the Denver Nuggets for 6th in the West and only one-half game behind the Trail Blazers at #5.

With the Suns... well, you never really know which team will show up on any given night. If the Suns vs Clippers version shows up for this game, game over. If the Suns vs Trail Blazers version shows up, then we should at least have a good game to watch. The Pelicans will be playing on the second night of a home back-to-back which might help the Suns slightly but only if they come to the Smoothie King Center engaged and energetic.

The Pelicans

Probable starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Anthony Davis & Emeka Okafor.

As I mentioned, the Pelicans starting lineup doesn’t really look good on paper but it somehow works. Their starting backcourt of Rondo and Holiday are both point guards and their starting small forward, E’Twaun Moore is in reality a 6’4” shooting guard. Before Cousins’ injury, the frontcourt combo of he and Anthony Davis was intimidating... to say the least. The loss of Cousins left a hole in the Pelicans’ starting lineup that they’ve found a surprising plug for... Emeka Okafor.

Okafor hadn’t played in the NBA since the 2012-13 season. Some of you might remember that he was a Sun - in name only - as his expiring contract was part of the trade between the Wizards and Suns that shipped out Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee for the already injured Okafor (who never put on a Suns uniform) and the Wizards’ 2014 1st round draft pick that turned into Tyler Ennis (good times). Since the Pels picked him up on a 10-day contract, he’s averaged 3.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just 16.1 minutes per game. While his points are negligible, his rebounds and blocks are not.

But the real engine that powers this team is Anthony Davis. He is presently their top scorer, top rebounder (with Cousins out), top shot blocker (2.2 per game) and tied for 2nd in steals. Expect him to put up big numbers against the Suns tonight. The Suns aren’t going to stop him from getting his... not once the ball is in his hands.

And the Pels are good at getting the ball into those hands.

Team Leaders

Points: Anthony Davis (27.7)

Rebounds: Anthony Davis* (10.9)

Assists: Rajon Rondo (7.4)

* The injured and out for the rest of the season DeMarcus Cousins has 12.9 rpg.

The Suns

Probable starting lineup: Elfrid Payton, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender & Alex Len.

We saw that the Suns are capable of playing well on Saturday against the Blazers. We need that team to show up tonight minus the lapses and mental mistakes that they’ve often made. For any chance at a win, either Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss are going to have to at least make Davis work for his points while not getting into foul trouble... and hopefully add a few points of their own on the offensive side.

Josh Jackson had a somewhat underwhelming game against the Blazers considering his play of late and hopefully he will make up for that in this game. With Tyson Chandler possibly missing another game with his neck problems, Alex Len will need to follow up one good game (Saturday) with another (tonight).

UPDATE:

If the Suns rely too much on leading scorers Devin Booker (24.4 ppg) and T.J. Warren (19.4 ppg) to carry the scoring load, we could be in for another long night. Payton needs to look to score as well as distribute and the second unit needs to put up more than the paltry 26 total points they scored in the Blazers game.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.4)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.5)

Assists: Elfrid Payton (8.6)

Summary

Your guess is as good as mine as to which Suns team will show up for this one. I’m predicting a loss either way although I’ll bet real money that it turns out to be either a big blowout loss or a closely fought game that the Suns find a way to lose near the end.