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Game Preview: Suns meet the Pelicans for the first time this season

The Pelicans and Suns are both 8-3 in their last 11 games.

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Who: Phoenix Suns (22-18) @ New Orleans Pelicans (25-17)

When: 6:00pm AZ Time

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

Watch: 3TV and Arizona’s Family Sports

Listen: KMVP 98.7 FM


The road for the Phoenix Suns is going to do nothing but get harder for the rest of the season. Per Tank-a-thon, the Suns have the hardest remaining schedule if you view it through the lens of opponents' winning percentage. Their opponent on Friday night is no slouch as the New Orleans Pelicans face for the first time this season.

The Suns have a total of three games on their remaining schedule against New Orleans: their game tonight and two in early April. Weird scheduling, eh? It’s gets even weirder. The Suns did not play the Pelicans at all in calendar year 2023.

This will be our first look at how their team is constructed this year. It isn’t much different from last season. The Pelicans didn’t make very many changes for they are relying on the health of their players to determine the success that they felt at the beginning of last season. Remember that New Orleans began the 2022-23 campaign 26-17 before falling apart and losing their next 10 consecutive games.

Part of that early success a year ago? A healthy Zion Williamson. He played in 29 games last year, with the Pelicans going 17-12 in those games. This year New Orleans is a top 10 team in both offensive and defensive rating. Why? They have a healthy Zion.

Zion is providing solid contributions to the team, averaging 21.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per night. He is doing less than in previous seasons relative to scoring, but that is because the players around him are contributing.

New Orleans has won 8 out of their last 11 games — just like the Phoenix Suns — and sit two games ahead of them in the standings. This is an important January game, not only for jockeying in the standings reasons but to continue to build confidence garnered in their fourth-quarter comeback against the Sacramento Kings.

The Suns have won three consecutive games and adding to it, knowing that they’re going into a rough schedule ahead, will do wonders for their confidence and compatibility as a team.

Probable Starters

Injury Report

Suns:

  • Bol Bol - OUT (Right Ankle Sprain)
  • Damion Lee - OUT (Right Meniscus Surgery)

New Orleans Pelicans:

  • Matt Ryan - OUT (Calf)

Uniform Matchup

What to Watch For

The Pelicans are a well-rounded team, and that isn’t a shot at Zion. They have seven players average double digits in scoring:

  • Zion: 21.9 PPG
  • Brandon Ingram: 21.6 PPG
  • CJ McCollum: 19.6 PPG
  • Jonas Valancuinas: 13.8 PPG
  • Trey Murphy: 13.6 PPG
  • Jordan Hawkins: 11.0 PPG
  • Herb Jones: 10.7 PPG

This is a team that can come at you in numerous ways, and you don’t necessarily know who it’s going to be on a particular evening. Is this a night where CJ McCollum finds his range from beyond the arc? Is Zion going to pound you on the interior? Or is it Brandon Ingram doing a combination of both?

We will be watching to see how Phoenix matches up defensively against a team with numerous long wings. Those teams have given Phoenix challenges this season. Just look at games against the Lakers — outside of the most recent one — and the Clippers. New Orleans plays big and long, which can disrupt a finesse team like Phoenix.

Key to a Suns Win

Negate Zion's effectiveness.

Perhaps is there some PTSD, as Zion Williamson hasn’t played a ton in his career, but in the games that he’s played against the Suns, he has dominated. In six games against Phoenix, Zion is averaging 28.5 points on 74.7% shooting. So yeah, I’m biased in believing that it begins and ends with how you gameplan against him.

Kevin Durant is going to draw the matchup on the fourth-year power forward and he will be responsible for trying to stop him from scoring. It isn’t the most ideal matchup because of the physicality with which Zion plays. But if we look back just one game ago for Phoenix, what changed the tide? It was the level of physicality KD played with coupled with his defensive length against Domantas Sabonis that made him effective. Will we see this tonight as well?

From a matchup standpoint, the Pelicans most likely will have Herb Jones on Devin Booker and Williamson on Kevin Durant. How will head coach Willie Green attack Beal? Will it be with the long arms of Ingram or his counterpart in McCollum? If it is McCollum, Beal must attack. If it’s Ingram, Phoenix should run the screen and roll to get McCollum on Beal and attack.

Prediction

Bradley Beal has scored over 30 points just once this season, dropping 37 in the win against the Lakers a week ago. Tonight he is going to have to give us one of his 35-point performances if this team wants to win. I don’t see Phoenix having the ability to slow the Pelicans down because the Suns can’t slow anybody down right now. It’s going to come down to matchups late, and Beal will save the day.

Suns 116, Pelicans 113

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