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Preview: Will Anthony Davis have his way against the Suns one last time this season?

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New Orleans has ridden the AD wave towards a possible playoff berth, sans DeMarcus Cousins. Will Davis destroy the Suns once more?

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

What: Phoenix Suns host New Orleans Pelicans

When: 7 pm AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Pelicans - Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic, Anthony Davis

Suns - Tyler Ulis, Shaquille Harrison, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss

Pelicans

OffRtg = 107.3 (10th), DefRtg = 105.9 (14th), NetRtg = 1.4 (12th)

After DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles in late January, many expected New Orleans to wilt back into a non-playoff contender. However, Davis went into a Russell Westbrook type of mentality, seemingly lifting this roster to way higher expectations without his partner in crime.

Since January 30, Davis has averaged 30.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3.1 blocks on 51.8/35.1/86 shooting splits. Those are not only elite numbers but MVP quality. If it wasn’t for James Harden and LeBron James, Davis would be running away with this reward in the season’s second half.

Even though Davis is bulldozing through the opposition on a nightly basis, is this destined to be a long-term relationship between team and player? After heading into this season as the most talked about future trade piece if all didn’t go well, that talk has significantly died down ever since.

At this point in time, I can’t imagine the Pelicans ever make Davis available, if it ever got to that point, until the final year of his contract. However, this summer is of actual importance for New Orleans.

Davis wants Cousins back, but do the Pelicans? After that scary injury for a big man, it will be intriguing to see how his market plays out.

Simply put, time is up to start adding pieces around Davis. That has to be done now every summer to continuously improve.

What should not be overlooked in this resurgence by New Orleans, though, is how Mirotic impacted this roster once he arrived from Chicago in February. He has averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting a pedestrian 30.6% on 3s.

Another team’s trash is one's treasure because Mirotic fits in smoothly alongside a hyperactive do-it-all big like Davis. His shot should come back around soon, which will be a huge weapon if the Pelicans sneak into the playoffs against a high-powered offense like Houston or Golden State.

With that being said, how much are the Pelicans an actual sleeper in the postseason? Without extra firepower from Cousins, I expect a quick bounce in the first round, but they should be applauded for even being at this point behind Davis’ Herculean efforts.

If New Orleans actually builds an efficient way around Davis surrounding him with ample shooters this summer, they could be in for a surprise jump towards safely being in the top 16 by this time next year.

Suns

OffRtg = 100.6 (30th), DefRtg = 110.6 (30th), NetRtg = -10.0 (30th)

Recent comments from Devin Booker on 98.7 FM this week suggested that he’s already been shut down and likely his scoring partner T.J. Warren, too. Booker mentioned how the offseason has already started for him with three games remaining, so I would guess the odds are slim we see him again this season even after going through a strenuous pregame routine on Tuesday.

If that’s the case, including now new names to the laundry list of injured Suns — Troy Daniels, Alan Williams, Jared Dudley, Tyson Chandler, Elfrid Payton, and Brandon Knight — they are closing up shop towards securing the top odds at the No. 1 pick in the draft with more losses to finish it up.

It has been that kind of season for the Suns because that injury bug has been a consistent thorn in their side. It’s hard to imagine much improvement in the win-loss column, but games would at least be competitive with most of these names out there.

Now, this opens the door for Jackson to continue as the top scoring option through the remainder of the season. As I have mentioned before, I think this will only help accelerate his development on both ends.

Over his past 10 games, Jackson has averaged 22.1 points on 19.2 field goal attempts per game. He has free reign of shooting 4-6 shots a quarter right now, but Jackson is still trying to adjust to NBA speed. It’s hard not to notice the difference in how he has played between January-April compared to October-December.

After an offseason dedicated to refining his shot, handle, and frame, Jackson seems on the cusp of a breakout campaign in 2018-2019. In much of the same ways Brandon Ingram dramatically improved over the second half of his rookie season leading into a strong sophomore one, Jackson is following a nearly identical script.

Honestly, it would not surprise me to see Jackson average somewhere around a 17-6-3-2 stat line next year alongside way better efficiency. The big question is whether or not his development alongside Booker and their newest addition via the draft will be enough to see a +15-20 improvement in the win column.

An interesting nugget I wanted to include in today’s preview came from Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro yesterday on the 98.7 FM airwaves. Per Gambadoro, the Suns are likely to have a new coach in place by the end of April.

With McDonough already releasing a story via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this month about wanting to speak to prospective clients earlier than others, this seems like an idea they have had planned for a while now.

Even with the upcoming roster overhaul where as many as 7-8 new faces could be on the roster next season, could interim head coach Jay Triano actually survive that? With the pushed up timeframe, including Triano giving his presentation to Suns management next week, does he have a better shot than we all imagined?

On the surface, it definitely seems that way but will it actually occur? I still put my doubts on it with McDonough putting together a thorough search through all college and professional ranks, but it’s very interesting.

At this point in time, to keep some consistency on staff, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them give Triano a slight raise to stay on as an Associate Head Coach or in a similar role like that.

With Booker on the verge of hearing four different head coaches in his ear in four seasons alone, Phoenix needs to get this one right. If they want to keep some consistency while doing a culture reset, maybe doing that type of role with Triano works better for both sides.

As we quickly approach the coaching search hitting high gear immediately after the conclusion of their final game at Dallas, expect non-stop news coming out of Phoenix this summer. These chips are finally about to be set into motion six months later.

Prediction

Both times these teams have met, Davis took over, especially in their second meeting, so I expect more of the same in this one.

Davis not only should reach his 30-12-2-2-3 stat line with rather ease against Phoenix, who is down 6 players due to injury but maybe almost go for 50 once again. Also, the floor spacing Mirotic will provide on a night like this should create even more room to operate for Davis.

After staying competitive over the last week, these Suns are due another blowout loss down all of their top scorers outside of Jackson. With the Pelicans square in the playoff race, expect no coasting from the jump by them.

Pelicans 115, Suns 91