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New Orleans Pelicans will get first look at Chris Paul-led Phoenix Suns

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An important matchup with future playoff implications?

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans (2-1), fresh off their 98-95 victory over the Spurs, will battle the new-look Suns (2-1) tonight, who will field a lot of familiar faces for New Orleans faithful.

Monty Williams became the head coach in Phoenix a year and a half ago. Then the Suns picked up Chris Paul via a trade with OKC and E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway in free agency last month.

Many have labeled the Suns as playoff bound due those veteran additions, plus Jae Crowder, and it’s hard to argue. The Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges core posted a sparkling 8-0 record in the Orlando restart, so adding productive vets should only help their cause of cracking the top 8 in the West.

The Suns beat the Mavericks on opening night and drew a 1-1 split in Sacramento against the Kings. Much like the Pelicans, the Suns have relied on solid defensive efforts. Their offense has struggled out of the gates as they haven’t shot the three-ball particularly well and have been unable to get Ayton rolling. The first overall pick from the 2018 NBA Draft is averaging only 11 points per game on a meager 8.3 field goal attempts.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans-Suns matchup should be an interesting one, pitting the ball dominant duo of CP3 and Book against the solid defensive backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe. Bridges is an underrated defender who may give Brandon Ingram a harder time than most, but one hopes Zion Williamson and Steven Adams can overpower Crowder and Ayton with their size and strength.

If New Orleans can escape with the victory, it’ll mark just the second time in the last ten years that the Pelicans have begun a season with a 3-1 record or better. To be honest, though, the ill-fated 2018-19 season should probably be excluded. That squad began the season a perfect 4-0, lost their next six games, and shortly thereafter, Anthony Davis made his public trade request.

One has to go all the way back to the 2010-11 season, when the Chris Paul-led Hornets won 11 of their first 12 under Monty Williams, to brag about a really good start to begin a campaign in franchise history.

And here’s another good trivia question: when was the last time the Hornets/Pelicans and Suns both made the playoffs in the same season? 2007-08. Time for a couple of streaks to fall.

While it’ll be fun to watch if New Orleans can maintain their defensive superiority, I’ll be watching the 28th ranked offense, probably much like Stan Van Gundy.

“We need better ball movement, side-to-side. We’ve got to put a little bit more pressure on people in pick-and-rolls and stuff. It’s an ongoing process, and quite honestly, we’re struggling with it. We’ve had some success in each game finding one or two sets that are fairly effective, but in terms of being able to flow into things, we haven’t been real good.”

The Pelicans have held opponents to under 100 points twice in three tries this season, but they’ve also failed to eclipse a 40 FG% and 30 3PT% the same number of times. JJ Redick and Eric Bledsoe can’t remain in a slump forever, for sure, but as the head coach said yesterday after practice, the problems run deeper than just a couple of cold-shooting individuals.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (2-1) at Phoenix Suns (2-1)

When: December 29, 9:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO, TNT

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.