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Pelicans hope to surprise Suns again

With or without CJ McCollum, New Orleans will likely be the underdog

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans sit just a game out of 9th in the Western Conference despite a recent four-game slide.

After falling 114-103 to the Raptors last night and having now lost 20 of their last 28 contests, the Los Angeles Lakers are practically beckoning anyone behind them in the standings to drive on by. They resemble the semi crawling in the far right lane on the interstate, pulling a heavy load up a steep incline. The hazards are flashing brightly and the speedometer refuses to break 45 mph.

With 14 games remaining on the schedule, the Pelicans still have time to overtake the Lakers, but New Orleans fans would probably enjoy celebrating the event sooner rather than later. If so, beating the Phoenix Suns tonight would greatly increase the odds of that happening.

The Pelicans are coming off a fun 130-105 victory over the Rockets and they knocked off the Suns in their last matchup, but the biggest source of optimism is linked to the injury report. CJ McCollum has been upgraded to questionable after having missed the last two games due to health and safety protocols.

“We’re hopeful,” Willie Green said after yesterday’s practice. “We’ll see how it goes. He’s got to get a couple of negative tests. But he’s progressing, so we’re hopeful.”

Right out of the All-Star break, the Pelicans won by 15 points in Phoenix. Brandon Ingram and McCollum played huge roles, combining for 60 points and 11 assists. Ingram has already been ruled out for tonight, but having McCollum would give the Pels more than a puncher’s chance.

Oddsmakers are listing New Orleans as 5-point underdogs at the time of this writing, so yeah, two negative tests would be a wonderful development. If things don’t work out accordingly, the Pelicans will need above average performances from a lot of role players. One positive, they’ve been empowered by the head coach.

“It’s the way we want all of our guys to play,” Green said. “Number one, they have to go out and play confident. It’s key in any professional sport, but in basketball, being confident in what you’re doing, putting the work in gives you confidence. Then having an understanding that freedom comes with responsibility. It comes with not turning it over. It comes with making the simple play. It comes with defensively protecting the paint, rebounding the ball, which again, fuels our offense.”

The Suns have the best record in the league. Their defense ranks second overall, the offense, fourth. They don’t turn the ball over and shoot it well from everywhere.

Devin Booker is a certifiable stud. DeAndre Ayton is fantastic on both ends of the floor. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are as tough defensively as they come. And Cameron Payne is averaging 15.3 points and 9.9 assists in March.

With or without McCollum, knocking off these Suns, who likely will be reminded of that Feb. 25th loss to the Pelicans by Monty Williams, will be a tall task even with Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson sidelined. Perhaps another good surprise is in store.

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Who: New Orleans Pelicans (28-40) vs Phoenix Suns (54-14)

When: March 15, 2022, 7:00 p.m.

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, League Pass

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.