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The New Orleans Pelicans have made the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and will now travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns.
The Pelicans began their season with just one win in their first 13 games but have recovered nicely thanks to some help from newly acquired CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram’s stellar play down the stretch.
Phoenix enters this series as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, winning an incredible 64 games and separating themselves from the rest of the West.
Both teams are close to full strength entering the series, and this should lead to an exciting Game 1. Will we see the Suns continue their dominance, or can the Pelicans steal a win on the road to begin the postseason?
Pelicans Surging Down the Stretch
The beginning of the 2021-22 NBA season made it appear that New Orleans was destined for a draft pick near the top of the lottery. The Pelicans began the season with just a 1-12 record through the first 13 games, and Zion Williamson had no timetable for a return.
However, the Pelicans managed to flip the script entirely, and thanks to some late-season acquisitions and a win against the Clippers in the Play-In Tournament, the Pelicans have solidified themselves as the No. 8 seed in the West.
Since acquiring McCollum from Portland, the Pelicans have posted an Offensive Rating of 117.2, which ranks ninth in the NBA over that span. McCollum has clearly given this offense some much-needed juice with Williamson sidelined, as prior to that trade New Orleans had the 19th-best Offensive Rating at 111.2.
Rookie Jose Alvarado is another player who has made an impact in the late stages of the season. Alvarado does not always make a large impact on offense, but in his last three games, he has averaged 12 points per game and has been a menace on the defensive end. He has averaged just under two steals per game in his last five games.
Combine those two with Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham, and rookie Herb Jones, and you have a roster that is certainly capable of staying competitive with anyone.
Suns Are Elite on Both Ends
After losing in the NBA Finals to the Bucks last season, the Suns put together a terrific season and now find themselves as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns are in this position because of their balance on both ends of the floor – something that many teams in the NBA simply do not have.
During the 82-game regular season, Phoenix posted a Net Rating of 7.5, which led the NBA. Their Offensive Rating (114.2) and Defensive Rating (106.8) both rank within the top five in the league, which is something that no other team can say.
The Suns have done that in large part because of Devin Booker, who averaged 26.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists this season. He shot 47% from the floor overall and 38% from deep in a season where he entered the MVP conversation.
Booker has also gotten some help from the likes of Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges, three guys who have dominated on both ends of the floor and catapulted Phoenix to the top of the West.
The Pelicans had to put together a near miracle to make the postseason, but the Suns are simply the better team in this series, and I think they can win comfortably in Game 1.
Phoenix and New Orleans have matched up four times this season, which resulted in three wins for the Suns. During those four games, the Suns put up an Offensive Rating of 118.2 and simply overwhelmed this Pelicans team on the offensive end of the floor, which is something I think they can once again do today.
There is a lot of talent on both the Suns and Pelicans, but I think the Suns’ experience will be a factor that separates them and leads to a big Game 1 victory.
Pick: Suns -10.5 (-110)