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Game preview: Phoenix Suns take on New Orleans Pelicans in first of two-game series

Can the Suns avoid three losses in a row?

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (16-9) at New Orleans Pelicans (16-8)

When: 6:30 p.m. AZ Time

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

Watch: Bally Sports AZ

Listen: 98.7 FM

DraftKings Betting Lines: Suns are somehow favored by 2, with a 228.5 O/U


The Phoenix Suns, who are tied for second place in the Western Conference standings, face the first-placed New Orleans Pelicans Friday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This is the second meeting of this season between the Suns and Pelicans. Phoenix won the first meeting, 124-111 at home Oct. 28, though neither Brandon Ingram nor Zion Williamson played in that game.

The Suns and Pelicans also faced off in the first round of the 2022 Western Conference playoffs. Phoenix won the series 4-2 but it faced a valiant effort from New Orleans, which has seen more improvement under head coach and former Suns assistant Willie Green.

After a 6-6 start, the Pelicans have won 10 of 12 games and are on a five-game winning streak entering Friday’s game against the Suns. They have been very good defensively and rank No. 1 in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage (32.7), which has helped them hold opponents to 106 points per game over their last 12 contests.

New Orleans also has one of the best offenses in the league. Forward Zion Williamson (23.9 points per game), forward Brandon Ingram (20.8 points per game) and guard CJ McCollum (16.9 points per game) comprise one of the best trios in the NBA and provide rare matchup challenges with Williams’ explosiveness and the shot-creating ability from Ingram and McCollum. However, Ingram is out for Friday’s game due to a toe injury.

The Pelicans have three other players who average double figures in scoring: guard Trey Murphy III (13.5 points per game); starting center Jonas Valanciunas (13.4 points per game); and forward Herbert Jones (10.6 points per game). Herbert is also out for Friday’s contest due to an ankle injury.

This will be another big challenge for the Suns, who suffered consecutive blowout losses to the Dallas Mavericks (130-111) and the first-place team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics (125-98). Phoenix is looking to have a bounce-back performance after it trailed by as many as 45 points against the Celtics Wednesday night.

Here are some of the notable statistics for each team provided by TeamRankings.

  • Points per game: Phoenix (No. 7, 115.8), New Orleans (No. 5, 116.7)
  • Assists per game: Phoenix (No. 6, 27.3), New Orleans (No. 9, 26.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Phoenix (No. 14, 52.1), New Orleans (No. 8, 53.3)
  • Average scoring margin: Phoenix (No. 4, +5.8), New Orleans (No. 2, +6.9)
  • Offensive efficiency: Phoenix (No. 3), New Orleans (No. 6)
  • Team shooting percentage: Phoenix (No. 10, 47.6), New Orleans (No. 5, 48.4)
  • Effective field goal percentage: Phoenix (No. 10, 54.6), New Orleans (No. 8, 54.7)
  • 3-point percentage: Phoenix (No. 4, 37.9), New Orleans (No. 10, 37.2)
  • 2-point percentage: Phoenix (No. 18, 53.3), New Orleans (No. 11, 54.2)
  • Blocks per game: Phoenix (No. 6, 5.5), New Orleans (No. 19, 4.7)
  • Steals per game: Phoenix (No. 15, 7.2), New Orleans (No. 2, 8.8)
  • Turnovers per game: Phoenix (No. 5, 13.6), New Orleans (No. 19, 14.8)
  • Opponent points per game: Phoenix (No. 8, 109.9), New Orleans (No. 6, 109.8)
  • Opponent shooting percentage: Phoenix (No. 12, 46.5), New Orleans (No. 9, 45.9)
  • Opponent effective field-goal percentage: Phoenix (No. 12, 53.1), New Orleans (No. 8, 52.7)
  • Opponent 3-point percentage: Phoenix (No. 20, 36.5), New Orleans (No. 1, 32.7)
  • Opponent 2-point percentage: Phoenix (No. 6, 52.1), New Orleans (No. 21, 55.3)
  • Opponent total rebounds per game: Phoenix (No. 4, 49.8), New Orleans (No. 8, 50.0)

Likely Starting Lineups

Out/Injured

Phoenix:

  • Cam Johnson (right knee) is OUT
  • Duane Washington Jr. (hip) is OUT
  • Jae Crowder (chillin at home) is NOT WITH TEAM

New Orleans:

  • Brandon Ingram (left big toe) is OUT
  • Herbert Jones (left ankle) is OUT
  • Jose Alvarado (rib) is QUESTIONABLE

Uniform Matchup

Courtesy of lockervision.nba.com

What to Watch For

The Suns are coming off back-to-back losses, which has been rare for them in their last three seasons under coach Monty Williams. Phoenix has not suffered three consecutive defeats since the 2021 NBA Finals, when it lost four straight games to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Suns starting point guard Chris Paul returned Wednesday night and finished with just four points and four assists in 24 minutes. Granted, Phoenix did not have a competitive game and benched their starters late but Friday will be another opportunity for him to get back on track.

The Pelicans provided fits for the Suns last season due to their defensive versatility. Green led Phoenix’s defensive schemes as an assistant and is very familiar with the offense it runs. New Orleans has the ability to switch several matchups and can negate Suns starting center Deandre Ayton in the paint with Valanciunas, who notably had several offensive rebounds in their first-round series last season.

The Pelicans will not have Ingram, who averaged 27 points, 6.2 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the playoff matchup between the teams, and Jones, who provided fits for multiple Suns players with his defense. Still, Williamson is a very tough matchup for Phoenix given it does not have a ‘4’ who can match his physicality and athleticism.

This is the first of two games between the teams, so matchups and schematic changes will be an interesting point to see Friday and Sunday.

Head-to-head

The Suns and the Pelicans, who were previously the New Orleans Hornets, have played 69 times in their history dating back to the 2002-03 season. Phoenix leads the all-time series 37-32 and the teams have split their last four meetings.

Keys to a Suns Win

Williamson is one of the toughest players to guard in the league due to his athleticism and quickness. Bridges or Craig could be his primary defender but the Suns will need to have a team effort — especially from their help-side defense — to prevent him from taking over the game.

Williamson did not play in the first meeting between the teams this season and neither did Ingram. McCollum had 17 points and nine assists in that game while Valanciunas had 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Phoenix is capable of slowing New Orleans down but must get multiple contributions offensively. Suns starting forward Mikal Bridges had 27 points in the first meeting between the teams, and they will likely need another big effort from him, especially if New Orleans keys in on Suns starting guard Devin Booker. Ayton could have a tough time offensively against Valanciunas, so Bridges will be a key player in this game.

Prediction

The Suns have not lost three straight games in the regular season since 2021-22 and it is hard to imagine them doing so Friday night. However, New Orleans has been one of the hottest teams in the league of late and is at home, so it will be a big challenge for Phoenix.

Paul is back for the Suns and Friday will be another chance to re-integrate him into their scheme. It may not be pretty but the Suns will pull out a grind-it-out game against the Pelicans.

Suns 113, Pelicans 108

When the game is over, join the Suns JAM Session Podcast as we discuss the game live on YouTube.

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