After a week of anticipation, the Phoenix Suns have learned who their first-round opponent in the 2022 NBA Playoffs will be. The dust has settled from the Play In Tournament, and the Suns will face the New Orleans Pelicans as they begin their postseason journey, hoping for the first championship in franchise history.
After defeating the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, New Orleans downed the Los Angeles Clippers 105-101 on Friday night, led by 30 points from Brandon Ingram.
The Pelicans present a unique matchup for the Suns, and while I doubt the series will go beyond five games, I believe the Phoenix Suns will have to expend more energy than we might believe – or want – them to.
Despite being the best regular season team in the NBA, believe it or not, the team has weaknesses. Just ask Twitter.
What do you feel the Suns’ number one weakness is?— John Voita (@DarthVoita) April 15, 2022
More replies than likes. Sheesh.
The two consistent observations by the Phoenix fan base? The ability to get to the line. And rebounding.
New Orleans has interior size with Jonas Valanciunas and Jaxson Hayes, and 6’8” rookie Herb Jones (get ready to hear his name a lot in this series) and Larry Nance, Jr. add extra length to this team. They are long. They are athletic. They love to rebound the ball.
Few things are more demoralizing than when, after 22 seconds of solid defense, the opposing team throws up a prayer and misses, only to be rebounded by their teammate. The pesky Pels average 12 offensive rebounds per game, ranking third in the NBA. That means more chances to stretch possessions and wear down the defense.
That is something you can expect to see throughout the upcoming series. The Pelicans rank third in the NBA in second chance points per game, averaging 15.1 per game.
This young team enjoys getting out and running as well. While their pace is 21st in the league, their fast break points (14.3) are sixth. Since the addition of CJ McCollum, that number has risen to 15.8 points.
Are these traits enough to overcome the Suns? No. But they can be annoying.
I’m transported back to my twenties, when the Phoenix Suns’ Seven Seconds or Less Era was driving teams out of arenas. Their fast-paced offense and ability to attack defenses was something this league’s fanbase had never seen before.
I found myself gathering with friends at local taverns to watch the exciting brand of basketball. That, and copious quantities of beer. As well as Jager-bombers. Is that still a thing? The season progressed, and as the playoffs approached, the team appeared unbeatable. They were as unstoppable as my desire to get Zipps medium golden wings with extra blue cheese.
Until the playoffs.
One consistent source of annoyance in that team’s play was their inability to grab a rebounds. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be yelling at a TV in a crowded bar, screaming in unison with my fellow frustrated — and not sober — fans, begging the Suns to “grab the damn board.”
In the 2005 offseason, the Suns did their best to address this need by trading away Quentin Richardson in exchange for big man Kurt Thomas. Despite Kurt’s size, the Phoenix Suns found themselves outmatched and outsized on the interior.
Annoyance is coming. Playoff rebounding — or lack thereof — can drive a man to drink. We have to know that the Pelicans’ youth, athleticism, and one-two punch of McCollum/Ingram should not be dismissed.
Let us not blame Deandre Ayton for a lack of interior size, hustle, or allowing second chance points. Recognize that this is what the Pelicans do. If they crash the glass and try their hardest to get extra possessions in a basketball game, it is team rebounding to blame, not just DA.
Again, I don’t believe the Pelicans’ rebounding prowess will be enough to tip the series in their favor. However, I will point out that there will be times in the series when we will be irritated by their ability to crash the boards.
Prepare to deal with those feelings. Even if it means mixing Jägermeister with Red Bull (seriously, how the eff did I drink those things?!)
Suns in 5.