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Preview: Suns continue tough road trip in New Orleans

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Suns try to get right with their second win of the road trip, but face a Pelicans team that beat them just two weeks ago.

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

What: Phoenix Suns (9-11) at New Orleans Pelicans (6-15)

When: 5:00 PM AZ time — EARLY START

Where: New Orleans, Louisiana

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


One night after losing in embarrassing fashion to the Orlando Magic under a barrage of unusual shot-making by the opposition, the Phoenix Suns have to face a team that just beat them at home two weeks ago under a barrage of unusual shot-making.

New Orleans Pelicans beat the Suns two weeks ago with their second-best offensive rating of the 21 game season (119 points per 100 possessions), just like the Orlando Magic beat the Suns last night with their best (130 points per 100 possessions). Those two teams do not normally shoot the ball that well, but they did against the Suns.

Is this a bad pattern that’s developing? Yes. Six of the eight opponents the Suns have faced since that Celtics game nearly three weeks ago have posted better than their usual offensive games.


Suns Update (9-11)

The Phoenix Suns lately are developing habits that look a lot like their last four years, and it’s not pretty. Lazy defensive effort, getting down when the other team makes shots, not fighting to keep control of the game... It’s almost like it’s a bunch of first and second year players who don’t know how to play smart, cohesive basketball.

Groupings of Ty Jerome (rookie), Jevon Carter (2nd year), Mikal Bridges (2nd), Cameron Johnson (rookie) were common and a disaster. All were -9 or worse on the scoreboard in a game the Suns lost by 14 and were down as much as 24. Coach Monty Williams has decided on this trip to sit out veteran Tyler Johnson, who has been playing very poorly lately, in lieu of rookie Jerome and second-year man Carter. The results have not been pretty.

Just like on Monday, the starters had a good first shift or two, but stunk up the joint in the second half. On Monday, the team squandered a 20-point halftime lead (59-39). On Wednesday, they built a 10-point lead (37-27) near the end of the first quarter.

But then the wheels came off, and strangely it looked like the Suns had no plan to put them back on. They went down easy, and stayed there. Take out Kelly Oubre’s heroics to save the Suns from an epic collapse on Monday, and the Suns were outscored by 50 in just five quarters the last two games.

What happened to Devin Booker? He’s been passive, content to set up teammates for shots, and when he does take a shot it’s been off the mark. Since Baynes and Rubio went down and Booker came under the spotlight as the needed leader, he has not scored 20+ points in consecutive games. That never happened last year over such a long span.

Booker has averaged 22.6 points on 46% shooting (29% on threes), 6 assists and 3 rebounds over the last 8 games since the untimely injuries to his teammates hit. The Suns are 2-6 in those games.

What happened to that kid who didn’t care who the opponent was, he just went ahead and scored anyway?

Maybe he’s suffering from bad memories of the past four years, knowing that offensive heroics as the team’s only good scorer doesn’t win games? Remember that old saying that insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Of course, if that’s the case, he wouldn’t have regressed to last year’s defensive effort during this fade out. So maybe that’s not it.

Whatever it is, it’s clear that Booker is done with being a one-man band. He’s preferring in big moments — at whatever point in the game — to set up others rather than take and make the shot himself. He’s expecting the double-team blitz and quickly finding the open man. He’s waiting to see if his teammates will make the big shots he’s giving them. But most of the time, especially with his three best teammates out or hobbled, they are coming up short.

Let’s see what Monty Williams does tonight. Does he figure out how to light Booker’s fire to lead the team no matter who’s injured? In the second unit, does he keep benching the dude who was supposed to help the second unit be more mature, Tyler Johnson? Johnson has been objectively bad all season, though, and Monty is excited to watch his rookie Ty Jerome in action. But Jerome is only in his first week of NBA action, so maybe don’t put too many eggs in that one basket.

Yet putting all that aside, the Suns biggest problem is missing their two centers, Deandre Ayton and Aron Baynes. You have to wonder what state the team will be in when they finally get back on the court together. Let’s just hope it’s at or near a .500 record at this point.

Pelicans Update (6-15)

Since beating the Suns a few weeks ago — y’all remember their great scoring night to win 124-121 in Phoenix right? — the Pellies have lost six in a row. You read that right. The team that looked like they’d figured out how to win has suddenly forgotten again.

In losses to Mavericks, Thunder (twice), Lakers, Clippers and Jazz, the Pelicans have come up short. Their offense and defense have both faltered.

But then again, only the Thunder games could arguably have been bad losses for an undermanned Pelicans team. Maybe this Suns game is a get-right bookend. Gawd I hope not.

Brandon Ingram has been a great revelation for New Orleans this year, leading them in scoring (25.4) with 41% three point shooting, along with 7 rebounds, 4 assists just about a steal and a block a game. All career highs.

Jrue Holiday is their mainstay and borderline All-Star with 19.7 points and 6.7 assists per game along with All-NBA level defense.

Lonzo Ball, JJ Redick and Josh Hart are the others who score in double figures for them.


Prediction

Sorry guys but this Suns team doesn’t look like it’s a lock to beat anyone. I can’t in good conscience predict a win.

Let’s just hope that Aron Baynes gets back soon.