After ending 2021 having won five out of six, the New Orleans Pelicans have dropped two in a row to start the new year.
The Pelicans lost on the road to the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday before falling to Utah on Monday night at home in the Smoothie King Center.
Now the Phoenix Suns, last season’s Western Conference champions, come to New Orleans rested and ready while the Pels prepare to play for the third time in four nights.
The good news is that the Pelicans are essentially at full strength.
Brandon Ingram was rusty, as expected, in his return from Achilles soreness, but managed to play 31 minutes against the Jazz.
Josh Hart, Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, and Devonte’ Graham were all in the starting lineup, and all had their moments.
That starting five entered the week with a net rating of +8.4, driven by its defense.
It will certainly be tested by the Suns, who remain nestled between the Golden State Warriors and Jazz in the standings.
Phoenix has won seven of its last 10, led by its deep and balanced roster. During this most-recent stretch, the Suns have eight different players averaging double figures.
Devin Booker is playing to form, averaging more than 24 points per game. Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton remain a lethal pick and roll combo.
Monty Williams has scoring in the post and on the perimeter on his bench as well.
If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the Suns are as good as anyone in the NBA at stopping people from scoring.
There will be no excuses given by Willie Green or his team.
They’ve shown their mettle as the Pelicans have climbed from the abyss and into respectability over the last month.
They will suit up and take the court fully believing that they can win. Most of their fans will give them a puncher’s chance as well.
It will undoubtedly be difficult.
And, if it is anything like the last 20 games, it will be incredibly competitive and compelling.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Herb Jones vs Mikal Bridges
These two young forwards have a lot of similarities in their roles and skills. Now in his fourth season, Bridges has started every game in Phoenix this year. He’s a terror as a perimeter defender and a perfect complimentary piece on offense. Sound like anyone else we know? Though it’s unlikely either coach will waste their respective talents by having them guard each other, they remain an intriguing pair to observe whenever they’re on the court.
When: January 4, 2022, 7:00 pm
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM