The New Orleans Pelicans (5-6) roll into today looking to take care of home court once again and climb back to .500 after snapping a ragged six-game losing streak against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. Waiting for them will be a young Phoenix Suns (2-9) team looking to build off of a tough but hard fought loss to the Boston Celtics.
No matter the record, the Suns have played the Pelicans tough on the road the past three seasons. From a game winner by Devin Booker to a breakout game from Josh Jackson, New Orleans lost to Phoenix a couple of times in the Smoothie King Center and barely escaped with wins in their last two matchups.
The last time these two teams met Elfrid Payton was the Suns starting point guard, with a much different look to his game and his hair. This time round, however, Payton hopes to merely suit up. The Pelicans starting guard sprained his right ankle which has kept him out for six straight games.
Payton’s availability will for sure be one of the biggest factors to keep an eye on before tip-off. Here are our three other elements to keep tabs on in Friday’s matchup.
Is the band finally back together?
I wish a conversation about the Pelicans didn’t always have to involve injury, but it’s the unfortunate reality that all sports teams must face eventually — even if it feels like New Orleans has gotten it the worst.
After an Anthony Davis injury-filled road trip that included both he, Darius Miller and Payton missing a lot of time, things seem to be on the up and up. Davis looked healthy for the first time in over a week against the Bulls, Miller returned and has played a few games, and Payton appears ready for a return.
Time for excitement, right? Wrong!
After a underrated emotional contest for Nikola Mirotic against his former team Wednesday, Mirotic found himself on the latest injury report.
And if you thought his sprain was minor Andrew Lopez of The Times Picayune provided even more clarity.
Mirotic was wearing an ankle brace when we saw him at practice earlier today.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) November 9, 2018
He was also practicing shooting shots sitting in a chair. So, yeah. https://t.co/gbww9hjtfY
While Mirotic has had some extra time to heal since he was seen in a brace, there’s a legitimate chance that Mirotic could be the latest Pelican to miss time. For a team ready to finally see itself full strength again that would be quite the disappointment.
Is Wesley Johnson the stop-gap the Pelicans have prayed for?
The role of the small forward for the Pelicans has been openly joked about for some time now. With even below average production being accepted on occasion, New Orleans will take positive strides wherever they can get them from that position.
As Solomon Hill’s recent play is responsible for burying himself on the bench and Kenrich Williams simply not ready, Wesley Johnson has been given a real shot to make an impact. On Wednesday against Chicago, he delivered.
In just 24 minutes, Johnson scored 12 points on five for seven shooting while adding four rebounds and a couple of assists. Johnson’s performance brought many reactions and feelings. But none better than from The Bird Writes own Kevin Barrios with a clever but brutally honest take.
Wesley Johnson now has 10 points, which is like 22 in Pelicans’ small forward years.— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) November 8, 2018
Johnson has the quickness, ideal size, and defensive mindset the Pelicans are desperate for at that position. Throw in a respectable long range shot — fingers crossed — Johnson could make the difference many have been praying for.
Like the New Orleans Saints defense, the Pelicans can be fine with just average small forward play. The dismal play however, they can do without.
And we thought DeMarcus Cousins alone was the problem. Okay — maybe not by himself, but enough to where the Pelicans wouldn’t have several games with over 15 or 20 turnovers, right?
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. New Orleans sits currently at 20th in the league in turnovers averaging about 15 a game. And In their last three games that number has averaged out to 17 a game. The worry involved is the Pelicans’ pace isn’t to blame as much as their repeated knack for lazy passes and entries that result in favorable opportunities for their opponents.
There’s a belief that Elfrid Payton’s return should help the Pelicans in this area. But we must remember he is only one man. It will be interesting to see if the Pelicans can make a few adjustments and take more care of the basketball.
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Phoenix Suns
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Saturday, November 7, 2018, 6:00 p.m. Central
How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO