The last time the Pelicans faced the Suns, Jrue Holiday helped lead New Orleans to victory with 21 points, 6 assists and 2 steals. Both he and Tyreke Evans outplayed the combination of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. After the win, the Pelicans sat just a game behind the Suns in the Western Conference standings for the 8th seed.
Fast forward to today and everything is different: starters, rotation players and team standings. While the Pelicans have gone 10-4 since the trade deadline, the Suns have gone the other way, 6-8. During this span, they've beaten just one team with a record over .500, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Dead Playoff Vibes
With their recent stretch of woeful performances, fans are thinking about the future, specifically the time following the upcoming postseason. Yesterday, from Dave King of the Bright Side of the Sun:
No matter what they said in press conferences, trading away two of your best four players in a ten minute span in exchange for youth (Brandon Knight) and future draft picks (2016, 2017 and 2021) is "punting" on the current season.
He's not wrong. The team had burned bridges with Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. In 2013-14, a Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt won a bunch of games, but they still missed the playoffs. Although the team has either been in 8th or sat in the neighborhood of just a several games behind this season, their remaining schedule was always daunting.
Even before injuries removed Brandon Knight and Alex Len from the immediate equation, seldom used youngsters like TJ Warren and Archie Goodwin started getting consistent run at the expense of the once important Gerald Green. (Why didn't they move him?)
Before the All-Star break, the Suns were averaging nearly 106 points a game with a 46.1 FG% and a 35.9 3FG%. Since that time, they're down to 99.4 points a game on 43.9% from the floor and 31.4% from three. However, before anyone gets too excited, the Pelicans have failed to handle teams full of holes, especially on the road.
3 Keys to Victory
- Focus on Eric Bledsoe. Since the dismembering of the three-headed snake, the Suns lack the fearsome attack seen in New Orleans last meeting, especially with Knight in street clothes. Thus, the Pelicans defensive gameplan should revolve around slowing down Bledsoe's 17.3 PPG, 6.8 AST, 6.2 REB and 1.5 STL a game since the break.
- Pound the middle. No Alex Len means Brandan Wright and Markieff Morris are going to be giving up a lot of size to Omer Asik and Anthony Davis. You hear that Monty? Don't go matching up small with the Suns for too large of stretches, especially if it's not fruitful.
- Slow it down. Along the same lines, the last thing the Pelicans want to do is speed up the pace of the game and say give up a ton of easy points off turnovers. Be methodically and don't turn the ball over.
With the Thunder edging out the Celtics on Wednesday, it's important to keep pace. With the Warriors, Clippers and Rockets on tap next, the game on Thursday really has the feel of a must win. Geaux Pelicans!