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Play-in Preview: Pels/Spurs fight for playoff life, hope to face Suns on Sunday

Quick preview of two potential opponents of the Suns in the first round.

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The NBA playoffs begin for the Phoenix Suns in four days, yet we still have no idea who the Suns will play in the first round.

The Suns will play the late game on Easter Sunday, last of 8 first-round games. Every other Western Conference matchup is now set, as six other West teams spend the next few days dissecting the heck out of their upcoming opponent.

This year, the Suns have the top seed and their opponent won’t be determined until a mere 46 hours before tip-off!

And Mikal Bridges thought four days was short. The Suns Ironman still laughs at the memory of his first playoff playbook ahead of the Suns/Lakers series last year. He recalls spending hours reading through the night before their first practice after the Lakers won the 7th seed, and the right to face the 2nd-seed Suns, four days before tip-off.

This year, the Suns prep time consists of only one full day — and probably only a walk-through, at that — between the finding out their opponent and game day. A year ago, it was the Utah Jazz in this position, waiting until less than two days before tipoff to prep for the upstart Memphis Grizzlies... and they lost game one to the Grizz before sweeping the next four games.

Now it’s the Suns turn. I expect the Suns coaching staff are putting together three different playoff books this week, ready for anything. Meantime, they’re coming up with new wrinkles on offense that no one has been before, and shoring up their defense regardless of the opponent.

That’s tough, because each team is different. The Pelicans play two bigs at a time and are shallow on good wings, the Clippers are deep in wings but shallow on bigs, and the Spurs are point-guard centric with possibly the greatest coach of all time calling the shots.

You can’t prep for all of them at once.

Last night, four possible Suns opponents were whittled down to three. Tonight, another one will be eliminated.

The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night with a late-game 26-11 run to erase a 10-point deficit, giving them the 7th seed they fought all season to earn. Now the Wolves (7th seed) will take on the young Grizzlies (2nd seed) in the playoffs.

One of those teams will win their first playoff series in a long time — either the Grizzlies will break a five-year drought or the Wolves will break an 18-year drought.

And that’s enough about Wolves/Grizzlies. Since they are now on the other side of the playoff bracket from the Phoenix Suns, the only time either could face the league-leading Suns is the Western Conference Finals.

Let’s focus on who can win that 8th seed, and play the Suns on Sunday.

Remaining possibles are last night’s losers, the Clippers (42-40), New Orleans Pelicans (36-46) or San Antonio Spurs (34-48).

Tonight, the Pelicans and Spurs will play each other to stay alive in the Play-In Tournament. The winner plays the Clippers on Friday for the 8th and final playoff seed and a chance to face the top-seeded Suns. Loser goes home for the summer.

Let’s do a quick preview of Pellies vs. Spurs.

Both teams are fairly healthy going into game day, allowing for an exciting matchup of teams hoping to find magic in the form of a playoff appearance.

Injury report as of this morning:

The Spurs are 2-1 against the Pelicans since the All-Star Break and the trades that shook up both teams. The Spurs traded Derrick White to Boston for Josh Richardson and Romeo Langford (in a deal mostly centered around a protected pick), while the Pelicans leveled up with C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. from the tanking Blazers.

The Spurs beat the Pelicans a couple weeks ago, 107-103, with All-Star Dejounte Murray posting a triple double (15/13/11), though the Pelicans were playing without one of their best players in Brandon Ingram. They also beat the Pelicans a month earlier, 124-114, with another huge game from Dejounte Murray. And that time Brandon Ingram did play, posting 22 points.

In between, the Pelicans (sans Ingram) absolutely blasted the Spurs, 124-91, in a balanced attack that had six players in double figures.

Both teams have played much better in the second half than they did before the Break.

The Pelicans are 13-10 since the All-Star Break with the 10th best offense and 9th best defense in the league.

The Spurs are 11-12 since the break, with the 17th best offense and 16th best defense.

Not world-beaters, to be sure, but dangerous.

They don’t have set lineups. Pop switches starters often, while Willie Green has been experimenting with a two-big lineup that includes Jaxson Hayes at forward next to big Jonas.

It could come down to the coaches. No matter how old he gets, the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich is still one of the best coaches ever to roam an NBA sideline while Suns fan-favorite Willie Green experiences his first playoff-like game as rookie head coach of the Pelicans.

Who keeps their chances alive of playing the Suns in the first round, starting Sunday?


Who wins Spurs vs. Pelicans toinght?

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