Nickeil Alexander-Walker shoots a layup between two Phoenix defenders

Top 10 Pelicans Home Games of 2021-22: No. 6 vs. Suns

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

PHOENIX SUNS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Tuesday, Jan. 4 (7 p.m.)

Why it’s on the list
Last season Phoenix’s NBA franchise became “New Orleans West,” featuring a lengthy list of coaching and player connections to the Crescent City, including former Hornets/Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and all-time franchise leader in assists and steals Chris Paul. New Orleans first-year head coach Willie Green was on Williams’ staff as an assistant over the past two seasons, helping to elevate the Suns from the basement of the league standings to the NBA Finals in rapid time.

New Orleans would love to see early-career leaps in performance from its stable of talented young players, similar to what Phoenix benefited from in 2020-21, behind major jumps by center Deandre Ayton, 23, and athletic wing Mikal Bridges, 25. Often viewed as a player putting up gaudy statistics on bad teams, the NBA gained a genuine appreciation for Devin Booker, 24, during his excellent postseason and Phoenix’s first run to the title round since the Charles Barkley-led Suns in 1993.

Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
Not long ago, it was very rare for the Pelicans to play any home/home back-to-backs, particularly on two weeknights, but that will be the case in early January, when New Orleans hosts the top two Western Conference seeds from 2020-21 on consecutive evenings. Utah visits Jan. 3, followed by this matchup against Phoenix 24 hours later. The NBA has begun scheduling more home/home back-to-backs across the league, partly to reduce travel and create more off days for players.

What’s new in Phoenix
A Suns team forced to shrink its rotation late in the 2021 postseason due to injury (Dario Saric sustained an ACL tear during Game 1 of the NBA Finals) and inexperience chose to bring in reinforcements for its bench this summer. The most prominent pickups were shooting guard Landry Shamet, a much-needed backup center in JaVale McGee and former New Orleans point guard Elfrid Payton.

#PelicansHomeGamesBracket results
In a repeat of Phoenix’s memorable postseason, it was eliminated in this bracket by Milwaukee, this time by a 59 percent-41 percent margin in the quarterfinal round. Prior to that, the second-seeded Suns ran roughshod over 15th-seeded Charlotte in the Round of 16, garnering nearly three-fourths of the vote at 72.7 percent.

Other 2021-22 games between these teams
Tuesday, Nov. 2, New Orleans at Phoenix (TNT)
Friday, Feb. 25, New Orleans at Phoenix
Tuesday, March 15, Phoenix at New Orleans (NBA TV)

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