That Phoenix Suns are the best team in basketball. The New Orleans Pelicans are attempting to follow in the footsteps of their 2022 Western Conference Playoffs first-round opponents.
Less than two years ago, the Suns made headlines for the first time when they won 8-0 in the Orlando bubble. Although this great run did not result in a post-season bid, their success caught the attention of many viewers, including Chris Pauls.
However, the reasons CP3 wanted to join the Suns ran much deeper than just a handful of games.
“It’s a really good team,” Paul called in its introductory press conference in Phoenix. “Everyone always says young team or something, but if you’re a fan of the game you see different parts.
“I’ve known Book for a long time. Not only is he talented, he’s a dog. He’s really competitive. i know book know book. As we mature and play against each other, we are on the verge of battle.
“If you look at the staff, Monty is an incredible person, a human being, besides being a great coach. There were many things here.”
Paul named Willie Green, James Jones, DeAndre Ayton and others why he thought Phoenix was a perfect travel destination.
Much of this should remind New Orleans fans of what CJ McCollum said in his very first interview after arriving from Portland on the big trade deadline deal.
“A lot of young talent, man,” McCollum said after his first shootaround with the Pelicans. “Have you seen BI play lately? BI is obviously very good. Willie is a great coach – I’ve only heard great things about him. I spoke to CP; I spoke to some guys who played with him or trained against him; JJ Redick, you’ve probably met him, he’s been around for a while. A lot of people, you know, talked a lot about him. Obviously I know Griff, Trajan… Obviously, big guy in the middle, Zion. So there’s a lot of chemistry in there.
“I just feel like it’s a great situation for me as a guy who’s been in the league for a long time. A guy who knows how to be a pro. Obviously I know how to lead, I know how to follow and how to play many different roles. I feel like this is a really great place for me to continue.”
Like Paul, McCollum selected his current team based on a variety of factors, but most importantly, he saw a bright future ahead of him. Willie Green echoed the same sentiment months earlier, even pointing to the suns as a good analogy.
“It’s a situation that actually reminds me a lot of Phoenix,” says Green called at his introductory press conference. “Truly talented players. The staff, same. high character. People who like to come to work. I like working together. We are about to take the next step. I think going into next season is our goal, that’s our way of thinking. That makes us a sleeping giant. We have two young All-Stars. A lot of talent to put these guys and really make this team work.
Before diving into the analysis, it is interesting to note the head coaching comparison. This first round series is a matchup between the mentor and his protégé.
“Monty is a true leader, friend, brother, and I am so grateful to have studied under him over the past few years,” said Green. “He really took me under his wing. He helped me grow as a coach, as a man, as a person, as a father, as a husband.”
That Green spent several years under Williams in Phoenix is nothing new. Nor should it be the fact that they share similar coaching behaviors and beliefs about playstyle. What strikes me, however, is that Green is literally following in his mentor’s footsteps.
In William’s first season as head coach, he led New Orleans to the playoffs. Green, ditto. Can Willie make this first round series as competitive as Monty did against them lakers, win two games before bowing out to Kobe Bryant’s squad in the 2011 playoffs? Time will tell, but I’m pretty confident the Pelicans have the firepower to win at least a game or two.
The Pelicans and Suns faced each other four times during the regular season, with New Orleans walking away victorious once. However, had the Pelicans had a few stronger fourth quarters, the head-to-head battles would have been viewed very differently.
Of course, that was no easy task. The CP3-run Suns ready with most clutch wins (33) and best net score (+33.4). They were head and shoulders better than any other team in crunch time minutes.
In their first meeting on November 2, the Pelicans enjoyed a 14-point lead with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter. However, without Brandon Ingram (aching right hip) to help finish the game, the offensive stalled. New Orleans was outplayed 46-20 by the end of that contest, having as many field goals made (six) as turnovers (six).
With Ingram available at the next meeting, the Pelicans put themselves in a good position to win. At 6-21 on the rules, New Orleans was just 101-99 behind after two Devonte’ Graham 3-pointers. However, Chris Paul went on to flawlessly orchestrate the Suns’ offense in that final stretch while New Orleans did not.
The third matchup came right after the All-Star break and the Pelicans beat the Suns 117-102. McCollum and Ingram scored 60 points combined, while Booker scored 30 points without Paul (right thumb tearout). That win came during New Orleans’ best stretch, where they destroyed four opponents with an average of nearly 27 points.
The Suns won the last meeting on March 15 by a score of 131-115. They shot the ball extremely well, going 18 of 34 from behind the arc while the Pelicans had 17 turnovers, resulting in 33 points for Phoenix. This should be seen as the most one-sided loss of the season between these two teams as the Suns built a comfortable lead in the third quarter and never looked back.
The first four games in the series are scheduled to air on national television, but those with access to the Bally Sports New Orleans channel will have the opportunity to hear their local broadcast crew consisting of Joel Meyers, Antonio Daniels, Jen Hale, Erin Hartigan and David Wesley .
With the Pelicans finishing 28 games behind the Suns in the Western Conference rankings this season, it’s no surprise that New Orleans is considered a massive underdog.
For the curious, there are eight times in NBA history where the No. 8 upset the No. 1 and survived the first round of the playoffs. However, since the first-round series was expanded from five to seven games in 2003, this has only happened three times.
- 2012: 76er (8) beat the Bulls (1) in six games – Derrick Rose tore his ACL in game #1
- 2011: Grizzlies (8) beat Spurs (1) in six games – Memphis’ Grit and Grind defense cripples San Antonio
- 2007: Warriors (8) beat Mavericks (1) in six games – Don Nelson Smallball!
There was no one among the 16 writers who voted on ESPN predicted The Pelicans would win more than a single game in that series.
The odds makers believe the Suns will win the series in five games (Suns -2500, Pelicans +1000).
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