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Preview: Suns and Pelicans’ B teams face off

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This game will feature no stars, and maybe an ugly game ensues because of it.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the New Orleans Pelicans

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Suns - Elie Okobo, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Dragan Bender, Richaun Holmes

Pelicans - Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark, Kenrich Williams, Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor

Suns

OffRtg - 105.1 (27th), DefRtg - 113.8 (29th), NetRtg = minus-8.7 (28th)

If I have one request over the last three games with all of these injuries piling up, increase Bridges’ usage up near the 20s. I truly believe Bridges would show some awesome flashes, if he’s allowed to have more an expanded role as a primary option. The Suns’ No. 10 pick has only reached 15 points in eight games this season, and only three of those outings saw him even attempt 10 shots. When Bridges’ three-pointer is on, he’s very consistent and efficient with his opportunities.

Another angle to follow along with is the improvements lately from Bender. All of a sudden, over the last month or so, he’s looked more like an NBA rotation player than not. Kudos to head coach Igor Kokoskov and his player development staff, because Bender isn’t the only case study of marked improvement seen throughout the season.

Since March, Bender is averaging 5.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22.9 minutes. If it wasn’t for his clanky perimeter shooting, which has dipped big-time since last season, Bender’s growth would be more noticeable.

It’s an interesting case, because Bender won’t be on this roster after these final three games. The Suns declined his fourth-year team option worth $5.9 million, which he wasn’t worth. Now, we’ll see whether another team (cough, San Antonio Spurs, cough) is interested, or if Phoenix decides to keep him around on a short-term deal near the minimum. Personally, I think they’re moving on from Bender anyways, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they brought him back for 2020.

Even though it wasn’t discussed, Jamal Crawford didn’t play on Wednesday. With a DNP-CD, is Crawford finally letting Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton get the lion’s share of minutes this final week? Maybe so, and I hope that’s the case because we need to see more from both of these rookie point guards.

Depending on the draft lottery, if the Suns land Murray State PG Ja Morant, I doubt both of these players end up staying on the roster. That means one of Okobo or Melton will have to go. So far, who has shown more? Okobo is better offensively, while Melton is lightyears ahead defensively.

Truly, it’s a matter of preference so it’ll be interesting to see how the chips fall once May 14 rolls around.

Pelicans

OffRtg - 110.5 (12th), DefRtg - 111.7 (22nd), NetRtg = minus-1.3 (19th)

With the Pelicans’ lineup having their headliners be Payton and Randle, I wanted to deviate off the usual preview script. What’s going to happen this offseason with Davis and Holiday?

The AD trade derby has led to plenty of speculation involving the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, but I wouldn’t rule out the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks. Really, those are the only four realistic landing spots unless someone random comes out of nowhere (maybe Denver ships off a package featuring Michael Porter Jr. plus Gary Harris or Jamal Murray?).

If I had to make a prediction, I believe Boston deals Jayson Tatum in the end for Davis. Celtics GM Danny Ainge has his back against the wall right now with how much his team has been struggling this season. If he doesn’t force his hand sending Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving will walk over to their divisional rival New York Knicks with nothing in return.

How does this relate to Holiday? Well, if they land Tatum and Brown, I believe New Orleans tries to keep their veteran point guard. A lineup consisting of Holiday, Brown, Tatum plus another top 10 pick to fill their frontcourt need could appeal to a new GM in the Bayou.

If I were Phoenix, though, I would pay a hefty price to pair Holiday with Devin Booker. The realistic package would likely be this: T.J. Warren, Tyler Johnson, Okobo or Melton, and 2019 pick (if it’s not No. 1 or No. 2).

I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on the Holiday to Phoenix angle. How hefty of a price would you be willing to pay for Holiday to play alongside Booker in the Suns’ backcourt?

In the meantime, is a revenge game incoming tonight from Payton?

Prediction

Who knows how this game is going to go. Going back and looking through my recent predictions, I’m 0-for lately so maybe don’t use me if you’re a gambling man.

No stars will be on the floor tonight for either team, so this could turn into a game where Jackson and Randle take 15-20 shots in the midst of overall sloppy play. I’m expecting plenty of turnovers and fouls in this one.

Wishfully thinking this could be the Bridges breakout game where he takes over as the No. 1 option, but I’ll lean towards New Orleans pulling away late leading to another loss by Phoenix.

Pelicans 107, Suns 98