What: 2022 NBA Playoffs Round ONE, best of seven
When: Begins Sunday, April 17 at 6:00PM AZ time
Watch: TNT for Game 1
Listen: 98.7 FM
After winning the 8th and final Western Conference playoff spot on Friday night in a thrilling come-from-behind-from-ahead win over the Clippers, the New Orleans Pelicans (36-46, then 2-0 in the Play-In) get to face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in round one of the 2022 Playoffs.
Head Coaches, Best Friends
Now Suns head coach Monty Williams squares off against his mentee and best friend, former Suns associate head coach and current rookie Pelicans head coach, Willie Green. Monty hired Green as his associate head coach after he’d only spent a year on the Warriors staff, which was only a year after Green retired from the NBA. Now Green gets to try to beat the Suns in his first playoff chance.
He did a great job motivating his players when they were down in the second half and he saw them losing their steam.
"This is what we live for, this is what we worked hard for. We ain't giving this up...YOU GOTTA FIGHT!"— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2022
Listen in to @PelicansNBA Head Coach Willie Green in the huddle heading into the 4th quarter of the #MetaQuestPlayIn.
THIS IS MOTIVATIONAL. pic.twitter.com/Iy1xMUcGRT
Suns Heavy Favorites
The league-leading Suns are the heavy favorites in this series, no doubt about it. This season they won eight more games than any other NBA team (64-18). Only a handful of teams can ever boast that margin, except they’d rather boast the NBA Championship they earned that same season. Not to say the Suns will go all the way. Just to say history is kind.
Regardless of how far the Suns go this year, they will be heavily favored in the first round. They have the league’s best home record, best road record, best net scoring margin, best clutch record and most proven Western Conference playoff success after beating all of the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers last year to win the conference crown.
But the Pels have a chance
Can the Pelicans win the series? Of course they can. Over the last 28 years, five #8 seeds knocked off the #1 seed in the NBA playoffs, the last one occurring in 2012. We have Nuggets over Sonics in 1994, Knicks over Miami in 1998, Golden State’s ‘WE BELIEVE’ over Dallas in 2007, Grizzlies over Spurs in 2011 (Manu Ginobili injured) and Sixers over Bulls in 2012 (Derrick Rose injured). Note that those most recent two happened with big-time injuries heading into the playoffs and the 2007 series was marked notable by Golden State having swept the Mavericks 3-0 during the season and somehow having the magic formula to beat the Mavs.
Still, it’s the healthy top-seed Suns against a rolling but not as talented 9th-seeded Pelicans.
The Pelicans Story
After starting the season 1-12, the Pelicans went 35-34 the rest of the way and then won both Play-In games to advance as the 8th and final playoff seed.
This is a huge victory for rookie coach Willie Green, considering he missed his star player Zion Williamson the WHOLE season, and second-best player Brandon Ingram for 27 of the 82 games.
At the trade deadline, they made a big but questionable move to acquire C.J. McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. from the tanking Blazers and it paid off in spades. Those two played huge roles in the second half, as the Pelicans went 13-10 after the All-Star break to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Green spent the season developing his young guys, a lot like he did in Phoenix. Green and his staff molded rookie Herbert Jones into a Mikal Bridges type, helped model Brandon Ingram after Devin Booker, and has hopes of Trey Murphy Jr. being the next Cameron Johnson.
The Pelicans are even forming a strong defense (ranked 9th since the All-Star break) to go with their 10th ranked offense since the break.
Not world-beating numbers, but something the Suns should respect.
But don’t worry about respect, because Monty Williams, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and all the guys have ultimate respect for Willie Green, and will fully expect to see the Pelicans play them tough because they know and play the Suns schemes so well!
Suns: Self-Scout ahead of Opponent-Scout
See my story yesterday on just how good these Suns are, in historical context.
The Suns last played a week ago, and have been biding their time until finding out their opponent late on Friday night.
The Suns Ironman, Mikal Bridges, still chuckles at the memory of his first playoff playbook ahead of the Suns/Lakers series last year. He recalls spending hours reading through it 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 — after finding out their opponent on Friday night. This is no different than later series will be, but it’s notable that the Utah Jazz were in this position a year ago and lost that first game.
So the Suns spent the week scouting themselves.
“I told the guys we want to get two or three wins these next three days,” Williams said. “And a lot of that is based on a self-scout. We don’t know who we are going to play, so we might as well dive into who we are and how we can get ready.”
Whatever new wrinkles Williams has designed can only help, since the other side knows their schemes — and uses many of them — so well.
Season Series — Suns vs. Pelicans
The Suns won three out of four games against the Pelicans this year, the only loss coming without Chris Paul right after the All-Star break.
Nov 2, 2021 — Suns win 112-100
- In the midst of the Pelicans 1-12 start, they lost to a Suns team just finding their way after a 1-3 start of their own. The win tied the Suns record at 3-3, and was the second in an 18-game winning streak. The Suns shot 52% to the Pelicans 39%. The Pelicans were missing Brandon Ingram, while the Suns were missing Deandre Ayton (knee). JaVale McGee and Frank Kaminsky combined for 35 points and 8 rebounds at center. Frank also had 3 assists, 4 steals and a block.
Jan 4, 2022 — Suns win 123-110
- The Suns shot 54% to the Pelicans 40%. Deandre Ayton was out again along with JaVale McGee (COVID), and this time centers Jalen Smith and Bismack Biyombo combined for 28 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks. NOLA got 25 and 16 from Jonas Valanciunas and 16/5/6 from Brandon Ingram.
Feb 25, 2022 — Pelicans win 117-102
- The Suns and Pelicans both only shot 43%. This time it was Chris Paul out (thumb) and the Suns hadn’t found their way yet. The Pelicans got to the line for 41 free throws and out-rebounded the Suns 53-37. C.J McCollum had 28 points and Brandon Ingram had 27/7/5, while Devin Booker had 30 and Ayton had 20 in the loss.
March 15, 2022 — Suns win 131-115
- The Suns shot 54% to the Pelicans 50%. Chris Paul was still out (as was Brandon Ingram on the other side), but the Suns blasted the Pels as they were getting their CP-less footing. The win was the 2nd of a 9-game winning streak for the Suns. Ayton and McGee combined for 37 points and 11 rebounds, while Booker had 27 and Mikal Bridges had 20. Brandon Ingram missed this game
- Cameron Payne (knee) is back at practice and ready to go
- Landry Shamet missed practice on Friday with a foot injury. The extent of the injury is not known.
- Dario Saric is the only other player known to be dealing with injury. On Thursday, he said he’s getting a lot better (ACL surgery rehab) and could possibly play later in the playoffs if the Suns suffer injuries or COVID absences, but that he also might not make it back.
- Zion Williamson (foot) is reportedly running the court and playing five-on-five type work, but there’s no timetable for a return. He likely won’t play until next season, but keep an eye out.
The Pelicans go with a two-big lineup, but can go small as they showed against the Clippers in the fourth quarter of the Play-In game.
The Pels are a nice story and Willie Green is a good coach, but they just don’t measure up to the Phoenix Suns, who are the standard of the league.
Suns win series in a gentleman’s sweep, 4-1.
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