Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: New Orleans seeks repeat of Feb. 3 defense vs. Suns
Over the past 23 games played, the 101 points New Orleans allowed to Phoenix on Feb. 3 is tied for the fewest by a Pelicans opponent. The Suns were pressured into 18 turnovers and shot just 8/35 from three-point range, with the latter number being a major outlier for New Orleans’ perimeter defense recently.
As New Orleans (12-16) prepared for its Friday rematch vs. Phoenix (17-10), Brandon Ingram said the team is focused on trying to repeat some of those positives at the defensive end. The Pelicans have produced drastically different results lately at each end of the court, ranking No. 1 in the NBA in February in offensive rating (125.1 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com), but 28th in defensive rating (120.9), ahead of only Dallas (123.3) and Cleveland (123.6).
“Of course we want to stick to the game plan (specific to facing Phoenix), but continue to work on ourselves,” Ingram said after Friday’s morning shootaround. “(Including) being good in that low-man spot and good at the nail (center of the foul line), trusting each other on defense, staying in front of the ball, all the things Coach (Stan Van Gundy) talks about every single day. Trying to overemphasize those things and have carry over to this game, the next game, the next practice.”
Other notes from shootaround:
To use one example, 31 percent of New Orleans’ points this season have been generated by three-point makes. Compare that to a decade ago, when the 2010-11 Hornets only scored 17 percent of their points from treys, and you can see how drastically the NBA has changed (Utah leads the league in 2020-21 with a 43 percent scoring share coming from threes).
Asked how much he’s noticed that difference and how it has helped offenses dominate defenses this season, Ingram said, “The league is changing. Guys are developing skill sets that the league hasn’t seen before. At the 4 and 5 positions, guys can shoot the ball a little bit better and they’re emphasizing the three more. It’s a little more complicated for bigs to get out to the three-point line and guard the three. The game is stretching out and that’s opening up the paint a little bit more, to get easier baskets.” …
Ingram on Willy Hernangomez, who with Steven Adams' status in doubt could see more minutes tonight: “I like that he’s always ready. He has the same energy every single day and we know what we’re going to get from him, with him rebounding and his feel for the game, passing. I like what he brings to the table.”
Phoenix scouting report
Offensive efficiency rank: 10 (112.5)
Defensive efficiency rank: 7 (109.3)
Net rating rank: 7 (+3.2)
Streak: Lost 1
Go-to guy: Neither of the two previous Phoenix-New Orleans matchups have come down to the wire – or even close to it – but it’s interesting to look at the Suns’ clutch statistics this season, in case Friday’s game is the exception. To no one’s surprise, Chris Paul has again been one of the NBA’s premier guards with games on the line in 2020-21, scoring a team-high 63 points during clutch time, shooting 48 percent from the field on 44 attempts. Devin Booker is next on Phoenix’s roster with 38 points, while dipping to 33 percent shooting, followed by Mikal Bridges (32 points, 39 percent shooting). Booker and Paul have averaged 16.5 and 9.5 points, respectively, vs. New Orleans this season, well under their season scoring averages of 24.2 and 17.2. That drop is partly because there's been no reason for either to be on the floor at the end of either matchup.
On the rise: The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton’s scoring is down (13.9 ppg compared to 18.2 last season) on a very improved Phoenix team, but he’s been more productive in some less-discussed areas. Ayton is averaging career highs in rebounding (12.2) and field-goal percentage (59.0), with Phoenix 6-1 when the Arizona product grabs 15-plus boards. He has two double-doubles vs. the Pelicans this season, shooting 60 percent from the floor at 12/20.
Previous game starting lineups
Tuesday loss vs. Brooklyn
Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Notes: This group is 7-5 this season, the only Suns lineup that’s been used more than five times. The same group – but with Frank Kaminsky at power forward instead of Crowder – has gone 5-0. … Phoenix is 9-7 when Crowder starts, 5-3 when he comes off the bench. … Eight different Suns have made at least one start, including former Pelicans wing E’Twaun Moore, who started Feb. 8 in a home win vs. Cleveland.
NEW ORLEANS (12-16)
Wednesday loss vs. Portland
Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams
Notes: This group if 11-13. … Adams (ankle) has been downgraded to doubtful to play in Friday’s game. He’s played in 27 of the team’s 28 games, missing only the Feb. 1 home loss vs. Sacramento. Jaxson Hayes made his only start of the season vs. the Kings. Another option at the “5” position if Adams can’t play, Hernangomez most recently started an NBA game on March 11, 2019, logging 24 minutes for Charlotte in a road loss to Houston.
Pelicans keys to victory
FRONTCOURT AT THE FOREFRONT
In one of New Orleans’ best victories of the season Feb. 3, frontcourt starters Ingram, Williamson and Adams outscored their Phoenix counterparts by a 62-29 margin, led by Williamson’s 28 points. Bridges and then-starter Cam Johnson combined to shoot 7/21 from the field, after they went 10/20 in the Suns’ home blowout win over the Pelicans on Dec. 29. Phoenix won frontcourt starter scoring 47-34 that night.
Both teams had ugly three-point shooting nights while being thumped by the other in the previous two head-to-head meetings. New Orleans shot a season-worst 3/24 (13 percent) on Dec. 29 and lost by 25 points, while Phoenix was just 8/35 on Feb. 3 and lost by 22. That 23 percent rate Feb. 3 was the Suns’ second-worst accuracy of 2020-21 (they had a 15 percent game at Washington in a Jan. 11 defeat).
MISTAKES AT A MINIMUM
Turnovers have been a decisive factor in the season series thus far. Phoenix won the turnover battle by six during its Dec. 29 domination, while New Orleans committed eight fewer turnovers than the Suns while rolling to victory Feb. 3.