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Game Preview: Suns (2-1) host Zion, Pelicans (2-1) in big TNT matchup

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One team will end up 3-1 to start the year. Which will it be?

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

What: New Orleans Pelicans (2-1) vs. Phoenix Suns (2-1)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: That which has not been named, in Phoenix

Watch: TNT, FSAZ

Listen: 98.7 FM


Suns coach Monty Williams gets to coach against his former team, while Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy gets a chance to prove he’s a better coach than tweeter (a high, high bar for sure).

Williams coached the Pelicans (then called the Hornets) for five seasons at the beginning of his coaching career, the first one with Chris Paul as his All-Star point guard. They’ve since changed just about everything, including their name, so I’m not sure there’s a lot of nostalgia but we can mention it anyway.

On the Pels’ sideline we see the NBA coaching return of one of the best twitter follows of 2020 in Stan Van Gundy. SVG is a defense-first coach who will try to make the most of the All-Star level forward tandem of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

Both the Suns and Pelicans are 2-1 to start the young season after missing the playoffs last year.

Starting Lineups

The Pelicans made some off-season changes, swapping Jrue Holiday for Eric Bledsoe and a few draft picks. They also picked up Steven Adams from the Thunder.

Out / Injured

Dario Saric has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday’s game. Jalen Smith suffered a sprained ankle in Saturday’s game and will miss his second game tonight against the Pels. Abdel Nader remains out.

The Pelicans will be reporting injuries on Tuesday. Watch for updates.

Pelicans Update

Brandon Ingram, fresh off his All-Star nod and max extension, put in the best performance of the week in the Western Conference to kick off the new season. Ingram has posted averages of 26.7 points (44/47/82 splits), 6.7 assists and 7.3 rebounds in three games.

Zion Williamson has no minutes restrictions and has posted monster 21.7 points, 11,7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game at the power forward spot. In between them, Adams has been a tertiary factor with just over 7 points, 8 rebounds per game.

The back court offers a pair of questionable shooters in Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe. Y’all remember how Eric dont wanna be here. Well, he’s back in Phoenix, this time in a Pelicans uniform. Bledsoe is averaging just 10 points (31% three-point shooting), 4 assists and 2 rebounds in 32 minutes. Ball is a little better, putting up 12.7/4.3/5.0.

As a team, the Pelicans are ninth in free throw attempts, 11th in rebounding (sixth in total rebounding rate), third in steals and tied for third in defensive efficiency with the Suns.

They do have some impressive wins, over the Raptors and Spurs, sandwiching a shellacking by the Heat.

Suns Update

Looks like Dario Saric will finally take the court for the Suns after recovering from a strained quad suffered before coming back to the states for the season. But don’t expect miracles, since he has not played in a competitive game or even much of a competitive team scrimmage since August.

But have no fear because Frank is here! Frank Kaminsky might not be that good at NBA basketball but he was miles better on Sunday than Damian Jones and helped the Suns go on that late-third run. Frank had 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a block and was a +17 in 18 minutes of play. Still, I’m way looking forward to Dario.

Guess who’s been better than you might think so far? Chris Paul is third in the NBA with 17.3 potential assists per game, while averaging 9.7 actual assists because the Suns have missed a lot of shots so far. Ricky Rubio averaged 15.8 potential assists a year ago. The Suns as a team have dropped from 1st to 7th in assist rate so far, but that’s more about the rest of the team needing to pick it up than the point guard.

In related news, I’m looking forward to Devin Booker playing better. He looks like he’s pressing. A lot. He needs to cut down on his turnovers — 19 in 3 games, versus only 11 assists — and make more shots. I’m sure he will because he’s Devin Booker, and I hope it starts tonight against former teammate Eric Bledsoe. That the Suns are 2-1 with Booker having such a rough start is music to this Suns fan’s ears.

Maybe E’Twaun Moore will play tonight against his former team? Moore has been a ‘pro’s pro’ sitting out while the Suns guard depth is all healthy. He will be a big part of the team at some point this year, but right now he’s behind everyone else.

For more on the Suns, check these over the last couple of days:

Keys to a Suns win

All thanks to Zach Lowe for covering this on his Lowe Post pod this week with Chris Herring. The Pelicans this year, under SVG, are following the Bucks, Celtics and Raptors model of allowing as many threes as the opponent wants while defending the heck out of the paint. All of those East teams used that scheme to great effect in recent years with top-10 defenses, often even top-3.

For the Suns to win, they will have to take and make a bunch of threes rather than try to force feed the paint.

On the other end, the Pelicans LIVE in the paint on offense, trying not to take any threes outside of Brandon Ingram or JJ Redick if they can help it. None of Lonzo Ball, Bledsoe, Zion or Steven Adams can make them at a high clip. They’d rather attack the rim, and with Zion in there the attacks will be non-stop. Suns best chance at this win is forcing a three-point shootout.

Prediction

It’s too early in the season to make legitimate predictions because anything can happen. Heck the title-contending Clippers collared a 51-point loss to the 0-2 Mavericks who the Suns had beat four days earlier.

But hey this is a Suns blog, so let’s predict the Suns break out for a convincing 15-point win, even though three of the last four matchups have gone to overtime.

I’ll also predict that even if the Suns win by 15, the ESPN highlight package will feature Zion’s dunks front and center.