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Game Preview: Book, Suns visit BI, Pelicans

Despite last night’s loss, New Orleans is 6-5 over their last 11

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

What: Phoenix Suns (28-8) @ New Orleans Pelicans (13-24)

When: 6:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

Watch: Bally’s Sports AZ

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns’ 2022 got off to a roaring start on Sunday, as the club throttled the Charlotte Hornets, 133-99. The win was a welcome rebound from a disheartening New Year’s Eve loss to Boston, and the Suns will look to carry their momentum into tonight’s matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans. While Phoenix will continue to lean on their stellar backcourt until the return of several players from health protocols, the chance to see Jalen Smith thrust into legitimate minutes this past week has been downright fun. Well, as long as your name is not Mason Plumlee.

The Pelicans are coming off of yesterday’s 115-104 loss to the Jazz. Brandon Ingram shot poorly in his return to the lineup (3-18 FG), but despite the defeat New Orleans has been playing better of late. They are winners of six of their past 11 games, including victories over the Cavs and defending-champion Bucks. Solid contributions from Josh Hart (16.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 5.7 APG) and Herb Jones (12.1 PPG, lights-out defense) have helped key that stretch as New Orleans awaits the return of Zion Williamson.

Likely Starting Lineups

Suns

  • Chris Paul
  • Devin Booker
  • Mikal Bridges
  • Cam Johnson
  • Jalen Smith

Pelicans

  • Devonte’ Graham
  • Josh Hart
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Herb Jones
  • Jonas Valančiūnas

Injury Report

Suns

Frank Kaminsky is still out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his right knee.

Dario Šarić is still out while rehabbing his knee.

**UPDATE: Head coach Monty Williams has been cleared from health and safety protocols and will coach the team tonight!

Pelicans

Zion Williamson has yet to appear this season as he deals with a foot injury.

Kira Lewis is out for the season after tearing his ACL in December.

Tomáš Satoranský is in Health and Safety Protocols.


What to Watch For

  • Book and BI Getting Buckets: Tonight’s contest features two insanely gifted scorers. If the Pelicans want to keep things close, Brandon Ingram must pull from his deep bag of tricks. If he cannot, New Orleans simply does not have enough firepower to stick with the Suns. On the flip side, if Devin IS at his best, Ingram’s performance may be inconsequential.
  • Jonas Valančiūnas Loves Playing the Suns: Val keeps dodging Deandre Ayton. In the Suns’ first matchup with the Pels this season, Jonas put up 23 and 14. He also posted a 24 and 17 game against the Suns last season, and a 30-point effort the year before. For Phoenix, Bismack Biyombo’s strength may mirror Valančiūnas. Look for Biyombo to get extended minutes if Stix struggles to contain Jonas early.
  • Will Cam Johnson Ever Cool Down?: In his four-game stint with the first unit, Cam is averaging 16.3 PPG on 51% FG and 43% threes. Since November 17th (23 games), he is shooting 48% from three. This is the hottest stretch of Cam’s career, with 16 straight contests in double-digits. Stretching that streak to 17 games would take some scoring pressure off of Book and CP3 tonight.

Keys to a Suns Win

  1. Jalen Smith, Contributor: Although it took the center rotation being obliterated by COVID, Stix is finally getting an opportunity. In four games since joining the rotation, Jalen has averaged 16.0 PPG and 10.5 RPG on 56% FG. He looks active and bouncy, and has shown glimpses of the promise that made him the tenth overall pick. Smith’s long-term future with the Suns may be uncertain, but continuing his impactful play tonight could fuel a Phoenix victory.
  2. Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Playing Like Themselves: When times get tough, teams lean on their stars a bit extra. Luckily for the Suns, CP3 and Book have avoided protocols and the injured list. With two marquee stars flanked by solid role players, the Suns have plenty of firepower to put the Pelicans away, even if their sterling backcourt manages average performances.
  3. Mikal’s D vs. Ingram’s O: If one player is capable of wrecking the Suns’ plans tonight, it is Brandon Ingram. Thankfully, Phoenix employs a 6’6, 209 lb. rim padlock perfectly suited to prevent that scenario. Ingram’s offensive talent is likely to get him a few buckets tonight, but with Mikal on the case BI’s scoring should be more sparse than usual.

Prediction Time

Missing DA, JaVale, and Jae certainly hurts, and those absences tend to rear their heads when facing other elite squads. That being said, the Zion-less Pelicans are a team the Suns should handle. While the Suns have experienced a few losses lately, they are still a team with elite top-end talent and depth. Tonight’s forecast: Phoenix’s backcourt brilliance is supplemented by stellar play from the supporting cast, and the Suns roll 116-102.