When: 6:30 p.m. AZ Time
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
Watch: Bally Sports Arizona, ESPN
Listen: 98.7 FM
“Nothing good in life is easy”, I was once told by an imposing Drill Sergeant who stood over me while I was attempting to do “Earth downs” instead of push ups. It was a phrase that sticks to me to this day, a reminder that if you want to experience the highs, you must navigate the lows.
The Phoenix Suns’ path to an NBA championship was made more difficult on Tuesday night, not only by their loss to the Pelicans, but also by the hamstring injury suffered by Devin Booker. We don’t know when he’ll return. There are conflicting reports, with some claiming two games and others claiming two weeks.
All the Phoenix Suns can do at this point is focus on the most important game, which is the next one. And then the next one after that. And then the next one after that.
The series against the New Orleans Pelicans shifts to the Big Easy on Friday night and the team looks to navigate the choppy waters that lie before them. This is a team consisting of resilient and experienced players. And both of those traits will be tested against a fiery, energetic, and athletic Pelicans team.
- Dario Saric (knee) is OUT
- Devin Booker (hamstring) is OUT
- Kira Lewis (knee) is OUT
- Zion Williamson (foot) is OUT
What to Watch For
There are a lot of small details to look for in this game, and as the series progresses, it will be interesting to see what adjustments each head coach has made. That is what makes playoff basketball so intriguing. The game within the game, if you will.
Where to start?!
One area concern has been the rebounding of the Phoenix Suns. How will they address the physical force that is Jonas Valanciunas? He had a dominant performance in Game 1, but the Suns won despite his 25-rebound effort. In Game 2, the switch to focusing on the offensive glass gave the New Orleans Pelicans a chance to break away and run. It was the Pelicans’ fast break mentality that ultimately cost Devin Booker some time in the playoffs, as he strained his hamstring while pursuing Jaxson Hayes
Another thing that negates rebounding by the opposition is having your shot go through the hoop. What a concept. If the Suns can get to their spots and hit their shots they can get back on defense and avoid having the Pelicans try to turn the game into a track meet. Which, trust me, with the home crowd behind them, the Pelicans will try to do. Nothing gets the crowd going like a highlight dunk. The Phoenix Suns must rise above the emotion, and play cerebrally.
Keep an eye on Cameron Payne in Game 3. Payne is the motor that drives the second team’s engine, and in the first two games, he has had a rough go of it. He is o-of-5 from beyond the arc and has and assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.5. He has not been effective.
Payne was an important part of the Phoenix Suns’ postseason success in 2021, as he kept the office running while Chris Paul was either out or injured, and Devin Booker was on the bench. The Suns need CP15 to put in a solid performance, whether it’s distributing the ball or putting it through the hoop.
Keys to a Suns Win
The “wear down effect,” as Dave Kings refers to it. The Suns must revert to a strategy that has served them well all season. The ability to repeatedly wear down the opposition through execution.
To do this, they will need the support of their second team unit. They need to keep the pressure on the Pelicans. The depth exists. We know this. But they need to increase their efficiency, especially from beyond the arc.
During the regular season, the Suns’ bench averaged 35.4 points on 35.7% shooting from deep.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) April 21, 2022
Through the first two games of the Western Conference First Round, those numbers have dipped to 27.0 points on 18.8% from beyond the arc.
Even without Booker, this Suns team is really, really good. The Pelicans had to put up season bests in 3PT% and 3PM to beat Phoenix in Game 2. It will be a game of ups and downs, as playoff games typically are, but Chris Paul returns to the city that once welcomed him as a rookie and steps on their heart.
Suns 120, Pelicans 114