The New Orleans Pelicans (0-5) host the Phoenix Suns (1-4) tonight in the Smoothie King Center at 7pm Central. Fox Sports New Orleans will handle the broadcast and if you’re not around a television you can keep up with the radio broadcast on 99.5 FM locally or on the Pelicans app.
This team is feverishly creating new ways to lose. Playing slow (San Antonio and Memphis), fast (Denver, Golden State, and Milwaukee), big or small, with great offense or defense (not, of course, both at the same time) this team is inventing a variety of methods to tear the hearts out of fans at home or in the arena. Wednesday night they opted to play old school Memphis Grizzlies style in the grind house and nearly came out with a win in regulation. The final play, right out of the Monty Williams play book, featured Lance Stephenson dribbling for 15 seconds only to set up an open three (why?) for Anthony Davis. The score was tied and the Pelicans sat on time outs to settle for that disaster. But, that was little compared to the horrendous display in overtime where the Grizzlies ran away with the game as the offense came to a complete standstill.
Phoenix is unlikely to settle for a slow game in the Blender tonight. Hot off their first win of the season in overtime, the Suns will try to build momentum behind the offense of swingman T.J. Warren, who is averaging a blistering 22.4 points per game. This Suns team is unique thanks to a relative inability to shoot behind the arc; they rank 29th in attempts (as a percentage of all field goal attempts) and 28th in conversion rate. Like the Pelicans, the Suns are absymal on offense (27th in ORtg according to Basketball Reference, NOLA is 29th) and relatively competent on defense (16th in DRtg, NOLA is 13th).
Both these teams rank in the top five in pace despite their struggles on offense. This game could be difficult for starting point guard Tim Frazier, who goes against a physical marvel in “Mini-LeBron” Eric Bledsoe. While relatively comparable in height, Bledsoe has (at least) 20 pounds and quite a bit in wingspan and athleticism on Frazier. With the pace probably up and neither team shooting particularly well up to this point, any result is reasonably possible. Should either team find a groove shooting they are likely to leave the game victorious.
What to watch for
Anthony Davis guarded by smaller men - Remember when Anthony Davis abused the Detroit Pistons on his way to a stunning 59 point, 20 rebound performance last season? I haven’t. The next game he scored just 9 points and was rendered completely ineffective. Who did the Washington Wizards put on Anthony Davis duty? Current Phoenix Suns power forward Jared Dudley.
Memphis had a great deal of success putting smaller men on Davis much of the game Wednesday while Marc Gasol ignored Dante Cunningham in the first quarter. The paradox of Alvin Gentry’s quest to play small and fast is that Davis is rarely as effective going against small players (quick power forwards or small forwards bumped down a position like Dudley) as he is against more traditional big men. How does Gentry get Davis going if Dudley is the primary defender?
Rotation adventure - Dante Cunningham played 38 minutes on Tuesday night. He started on Wednesday night then played just the first five minutes before sitting the remainder of the game. Terrence Jones logged a DNP-CD before playing 28 minutes against Memphis. Gentry is searching for answers up and down the roster to no avail in five games. Who get a quick hook tonight? Will Cheick Diallo suddenly get thrust in the rotation? Has anyone seen Alexis Ajinca?
Scheme commitment and body language - If the Pelicans fall behind keep an eye on the body language of the players and their commitment to the scheme. As this team has fallen behind a number of players try to take things into their own hands resulting in fewer passes and more shots after just one pass during a possession. Communication breakdowns appear to snowball as rotations are misses and switches expected do not occur defensively, leading to easy baskets. While New Orleans has been quite competitive in four of five games this season these moments of malaise are certainly not helping matters when the ultimate margin is just a handful of possessions.