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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to keep win streak intact against setting Suns

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Phoenix may be cooling after scorching start to season. Can the Pels notch the rare road win?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

#SunsPelicans: catch the fever and cough on your friends.

The New Orleans Pelicans play the Phoenix Suns Thursday night on national TV in what would have been a “last year’s number 1 pick versus this year’s number 1 pick” matchup between our Zion Williamson and their Deandre Ayton.

Unfortunately for basketball fans in Arizona, Louisiana and everywhere in between, Zion hasn’t appeared in a regular season game yet and Ayton has been suspended 25 games due to performance enhancers.

So, sorry about that, casual NBA viewers!

SURPRISE SURPRISE

The Suns (7-6) are certainly the surprise team of the league through the first month of the season, as they’ve put together the league’s 9th best net rating with early-season wins over the Clippers and Philadelphia, along with one-point losses to Denver and Utah. They’ve lost three of four, though, so maybe a new reality is hitting them: Aron Baynes can’t be superman forever! OR CAN HE: HE’S SHOOTING 56 PERCENT AND 44 PERCENT(!!!) FROM THREE. Wowzers. He’s got an outlandish offensive rating of 131 and a defensive rating of 106. He along with Devin Booker, who is trying to go 50-50-90, are stalwarts on this surprise team.

But their trend downwards has been due to a few explosive games by opponents, rebounding shifting in favor of their enemies, and a couple of high-turnover games. Rubio missed the Celtics game, and their depth at point guard is suspect, despite personal favorite Tyler Johnson taking some of that responsibility.

THE BIG FIVE

If it’s Phoenix, it’s all about offense. They lead the league in assist percentage and assist ratio, and are tied for second in True shooting percentage. The Suns hold the league’s 6th best offense, which is held together by one of the best 5-man groups in the entire league, a collection of random-ass flotsam jammed together and held together with Monty Williams’ system. Those five: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, and Aron Baynes. Random, right??

Fortunately for the Pelicans, Baynes is out with a right hip contusion and Rubio is doubtful and a game time decision; however, it’s still important to note what Phoenix likes to do.

The Suns take a bunch of three-point shots, although not as many as our beloved Pels, ranking 9th in makes and 11th in attempts taken per game. But, surprisingly, their defense of treys is where they’ve been a different animal altogether — they’re fourth in the league in preventing opponents attempts, as well as makes — and that has helped sustain them despite fouling opponents at a very high clip, allowing the fourth-most free throw attempts.

Phoenix also makes plays, defensively, coming in third in the league in causing turnovers at 18 per game. So ball handlers like Jrue Holiday and Nickeil Alexander-Walker better be sure their dribble is secure and make quick decisions on passes. Overall, their defense could be classified as “average” — which, for the Phoenix Suns post-Steve Nash, is great!

WHAT’S GOOD (LATELY)?

Basically, the Pels have played better ball since November 9, so let’s dig in a little bit.

Def Rating DREB% REB% Opp 3PTA Opp 3PTM Opp Turnovers
From 10/22 thru 11/9 (1-7 record) 114.5 (29th) 69.6% (29th) 48.2% (29th) 38.4 (28th) 14 (28th) 16.5 (10th)
From 11/9 thru 11/20 (4-2 record) 108.6 (16th) 72.0% (18th) 49.7% (18th) 29.7 (5th) 11.2 (8th) 17.8 (3rd)

How about that vast improvement across the board over the last six games compared to the first eight on the schedule??

Here are the six most commonly used three-man combos during this span. It won’t be hard to notice some names popping up again and again:

Redick-Holiday-Williams: 126 minutes, net rating of +11.2

Redick-Holiday-Favors: 77 minutes, +17.0

Holiday-Favors-Williams: 75 minutes, +8.3

Holiday-Moore-Williams: 70 minutes, -4.0

Redick-Favors-Williams: 68 minutes, +19.3

Holiday-Williams-Hayes: 63 minutes, +10.0

That’s a lot of JJ Redick, Jrue Holiday, Kenrich Williams, and Derrick Favors! And, of course, keep an eye out for more Jaxson Hayes, who appears to be getting more and more comfortable.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (5-9) vs Phoenix Suns (7-6)

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

When: Thursday, November 21, 2019 9:30 PM CDT.

How: TNT