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Game Preview: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Phoenix Suns

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After a tough loss to Chicago, can the Pelicans pick up the pieces for a red hot Suns team?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tough to figure out if the Pelicans are up or down at the moment, thanks to their alternating results in their last five games. However, 15-15 isn't horrible for this team's first 30 games as they still remain in the thick of things for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and the slightly easier January slate is right around the corner. It gets better when the calendar turns to 2015.

For now, the Pelicans have to finish up these last two games in 2014. Their next opponent? The Phoenix Suns.

The Suns currently stand with a record of 17-14, winners of their last five contests, and currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Last season, the Suns were one of the biggest surprises in the league, thanks to almost run-n'-gun style of head coach Jeff Hornacek. The duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe led an offensive charge that had them just outside the playoff picture in the West when it was all said and done.

This is the first matchup between these two teams, and I'm rather excited to see how this plays out. The Pelicans have been playing some even basketball over the last week or so, and Anthony Davis has been doing his thing offensively. The Suns are one of the more fun and explosive teams to watch, and both teams are in the upper half of the team in terms of offensive efficiency.

Stats of Note

This year, the Suns bring a similar package to the one they had last season, but the addition of Isaiah Thomas now gives them a fearsome three-headed monster at the point guard position. From there, Gerald Green remains an explosive three-point shooter, the Morris Twins, Marcus and Markieff, are an excellent combination of inside and out, and the duo of Alex Len and Miles Plumlee gives them excellent size at the center position.

All of which has resulted in the league's 11th best offense, a 109.6 offensive efficiency, per Nylon Calculus. Defensively, the Suns rank 15th with a 107.5 defensive efficiency. The Suns three best players on the defensive side of the ball are Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, and Markieff Morris. All three are solid defensive players, in the case of Bledsoe a top tier defender at his position, but none of them are bringing Phoenix's defense into the top ten.

Even then, that might not be fair to the Suns. Pheonix has played one lineup (Bledsoe, Dragic, Morris, Morris, and Plumlee) the majority of the time, and that lineup has a defensive efficiency of 104.5. Three of the next four lineups played have defensive efficiencies of 94.1, 95.8, and 90.2. All small sample sizes (None of them has played over 100 minutes), but the elements of a good defense are there.

The biggest issue for Phoenix's defensive struggles is their rim protection, or lack thereof. While Len and Plumlee provide offensive value, they struggle to protect the rim. Both rank in the top five in contest percentage (Plumlee is fourth at 59.4%, while Len sits sixth with 57.9%), they also upwards of 55% at the rim in their times defending it.

Another area of concern for the Suns is their rebounding. Phoenix ranks 28th in the league in rebounding percentage at 48.4%, ahead of only Philadelphia and Miami. The Suns have five rebounders averaging at least five rebounds per game, but they don't have a single elite rebounder on the roster. Not to mention, this is a smaller team, so the rebounding numbers, like Miami, will never be in their favor.

To view this game from a PHX perspective, go here: Bright Side Of The Sun

Keys To Victory

Mecha-Davis: In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 23.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks on 49.5% shooting. The Pelicans have to continue to get him the ball and operate offensively. Against the Suns, I see no reason why Monty Williams and crew would go away from that. This is a perfect matchup to get Davis another 18-22 shots and have him dominate the Suns' frontline.

Defending The Point Guard Trio: Probably the toughest part for the Pellies. Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe could give New Orleans trouble, due to their lack of defensive wings. I imagine Holiday will defend one, and perhaps Evans on another? All three can attack the basket and hit the three ball well. If New Orleans can somehow slow them down, they should be able to get the victory.

Omer Asik: This is a game where Asik can have a huge impact. Right now, he's in a bit of a funk, and his minutes are slowly decreasing. Asik's rebounding and defense will be huge here. The Suns will attack the rim, and Asik should be able to stop from scoring. Rebounding wise, Asik has averaged 7.6 per game over the last five, and with the Suns playing a bit smaller than most, Asik should be able to have a 10-15 rebound game.

Again, this should be a fun game. I'm excited. Geaux Pellies.

What: Suns @ Pelicans

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: December 30th, 7:00 PM

How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass