Julius Randle shoots a reverse layup in a March 1 game at Phoenix

Behind the Numbers presented by HUB International: Suns at Pelicans (3/16/19)

by Jim Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Phoenix and New Orleans (6 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

1: Rank among all NBA players in assist average for New Orleans guard Elfrid Payton over the last 10 games, a stretch that began with him dishing out 14 dimes against Philadelphia on Feb. 25. The Crescent City native has been on a roll passing-wise in recent weeks, averaging 9.5 assists during that span, edging the likes of LeBron James (9.1 assists since Feb. 25), Trae Young (8.9) and Rajon Rondo (8.6) in that category. Payton also enters Saturday’s game vs. ex-team Phoenix having registered three consecutive triple-doubles, a testament to his ability to also score and rebound. Over the same timeframe of Feb. 25 through Friday’s games, Payton ranks 30th in the NBA in rebounding average (8.3). When you include only guards, Payton has been the league’s fourth-best backcourt boarder over the past 10 games, behind only Russell Westbrook (10.5 rpg since Feb. 25), Ben Simmons (9.9) and Luka Doncic (9.0).

10: Rank among all NBA players in scoring average for New Orleans forward/center Julius Randle since Feb. 27, a nine-game stretch that began with him pouring in 35 points against his previous team, the Los Angeles Lakers. During this timeframe, Randle is averaging 27.4 points, a number that jumped again Friday when he notched a career-best 45 points vs. Portland. The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder has scored efficiently as well, shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Randle also had a 22-point game against Saturday’s opponent, Phoenix, when the Pelicans visited the Suns on March 1, going 8/14 from the field. Last night Randle compiled one of the more impressive offensive games in team history, shooting 20/34 from the floor, though he noted afterward that better foul shooting (he went 3 of 11) could’ve potentially resulted in a 50-point performance. Randle has been New Orleans’ leader in scoring average over a ’19 stretch that extends all the way back to Jan. 3, at 22.9 ppg (Anthony Davis 22.6, Jrue Holiday 21.6 since Jan. 3).

4-3: Phoenix’s record since its March 1 home loss to New Orleans. Over the past two weeks – starting with a March 2 home victory over the Lakers – the Suns have sported a winning record, notably knocking off Milwaukee and Golden State in the same week. Phoenix ranks 17th in the NBA in net efficiency since March 2, which may not sound like much of an achievement, but consider that prior to that date, the Suns were 29th in the statistic, better than only Cleveland among the league’s 30 teams. Through the 14-point defeat against the Pelicans early this month, Phoenix was the NBA’s third-worst offensive team and second-worst defensive squad, but during this encouraging two-week span, the Suns have ranked 17th in offense and 12th in defense. By comparison, in the same timeframe, New Orleans is No. 27 in offense and No. 25 in defense, going 2-5 record-wise.

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