When: 7:00 p.m. AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Listen: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns look to carry over the flashes of last year’s success that were on display in Saturday’s win over Cleveland. A 50-12 run during the middle of the game left many thinking the rough start was in the rear-view mirror.
However, injuries are starting to play a factor with Cameron Payne still nursing a hamstring issue and Deandre Ayton now dealing with a right knee contusion, leaving him questionable for this game. Phoenix has the depth to neutralize the losses in the short term, especially against teams like New Orleans.
With the Pelicans coming in, it’s the first meeting with New Orleans head coach Willie Green since he was hired away from Phoenix this past offseason. With star Zion Williamson yet to see the floor this season and further evaluating coming in a couple weeks, Green and the Pelicans have struggled to win games, but one would think he’d have some extra motivation going up against his old mentor. The Pelicans may also be without former All-Star, Brandon Ingram, who is sore with a hip injury and considered day-to-day.
Projected Starting Lineups:
- Chris Paul
- Devin Booker
- Mikal Bridges
- Jae Crowder
- JaVale McGee (assuming no Ayton)
- Devonte Graham
- Josh Hart
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker
- Herbert Jones
- Jonas Valanciunas
Dario Saric (out), Payne (out), Ayton (questionable)
Ingram (day-to-day), Williamson (out), Garrett Temple (out)
Courtney Kirkland (crew chief), Lauren Holtkamp (referee), Justin Van Duyne (umpire)
Suns may have struck gold during their 50-12 run against Cleveland. Or they found the magic from a season ago. Either way, the Suns are technically playing some of their best basketball of the young season thus far.
As for matchups, the backcourt should feast in this one. Hart is definitely tough on the defensive end, but most of the Pelicans’ options for perimeter defense are young and inexperienced at best. Valanciunas is a pretty solid drop coverage defender in the pick-and-roll, but we all know how Chris Paul feasts on drop coverage with his mid-range game, and it’s just not a viable coverage against Phoenix.
Conversely, Valanciunas can really make Ayton’s absence felt when the Pelicans are on offense, if Ayton is indeed unable to go for this one. A double-double machine, Valanciunas is averaging 19.4 points and 14.6 rebounds and will make defenses pay inside. He’s also capable of making the pass out to the perimeter when defenses go heavy on him, so stopping him will be key for the Suns’ defense.
Pelicans are also coming off a few practice days, having last played on Saturday in a 117-123 loss to the New York Knicks. The aforementioned Valanciunas was strong in that game, totaling 27 points (on 15 shots), 14 rebounds, and 4 assists.
The game against New York was Hart’s first game starting in relief of Ingram, and he played well, scoring 16 points on 8 shots and corralling 8 boards. He and the other guards on this squad are not ones who are loose with the ball. The three guards likely to start - Graham, Hart, and Alexander-Walker - have combined for just two turnovers over the past two games.
Will we see any tricks up Willie Green’s sleeve to combat his old buddy, Chris Paul, and the rest of the Suns?
The shorthanded Suns should come in fresh off a couple practice days ready to work extra hard to make up for the injury losses. A 104-82 win is on the way.