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NBA Preview: Pelicans to face improving Suns team which recently posted wins over Warriors and Bucks

New Orleans beat Phoenix handily at the start of the month, but don’t expect a similar outcome.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eleven games remain on the schedule, but the New Orleans Pelicans (30-41) will wrap up their final back-to-back on Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns (16-54).

After sitting out Friday’s contest against the Trail Blazers, Anthony Davis should return to his customary 20-25 minute role versus the Suns, but the spotlight should be on his teammates. Elfrid Payton has morphed into a triple-double machine, Frank Jackson has scored in double figures in five straight games, and Julius Randle is coming off a career-best 45 points.

In addition to the young guys putting up big numbers, they’re competing, just as Danny Ferry had hoped they would to close out the season earlier this week. The Pelicans have lost five straight games, but they could have walked away with wins in each of them. They trailed Portland by three with 6:32 left, Milwaukee by seven with 9:13 left, Atlanta by six with 8:01 left, Toronto by ten with 10:20 left and Utah by six with 4:20 left.

On the flip side, the cellar dwellers in the West, who had lost 17 straight games, have won five of their last nine, which includes wins over the Lakers (when LeBron James was still trying), Bucks and Warriors. These Suns very nearly upset the Houston Rockets last night, too. Phoenix seized a 96-95 lead with 5:11 remaining, but then James Harden took over, scoring the next seven points to propel the Rockets to the narrow six-point victory.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix is led by Devin Booker and his 25.2 points per game, but he’s getting some solid support down the stretch. Since the start of February, Kelly Oubre is averaging 18.8 points, DeAndre Ayton, 16.3 points, Josh Jackson, 13.5, and Tyler Johnson, 11.1.

With the Pelicans often shorthanded and struggling to find the range from deep — they’re shooting an anemic 30.4% from three-point range (28th) during the five-game losing streak, don’t assume they’ll beat a very poor Phoenix Suns team. Just as Atlanta knocked off New Orleans last Sunday, the Pelicans have lately proven they can drop a contest to anyone. The once formidable offense now sputters for stretches (March offensive rating sits 25th) and the defense is leaking as much water as it has all season (defensive rating in March sits 24th).

One thing that we should hope to see: Dairis Bertans finding the basketball court again. After playing a handful of minutes against the Hawks and Bucks, he failed to get off the bench last night versus the Trail Blazers. It’s understandable to an extent because Bertans is not familiar with the offense and teammates, let alone the league and its rules, but nevertheless he needs run. Having played professionally in Europe for years, he’s not some fresh-faced rookie in the Association; he should be able to catch on quickly enough.

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (30-41) vs Phoenix Suns (16-54)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Saturday, March 16th, 2019. 6:00 PM CST

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO