With a little more than a month left before the start of the 2023-24 NBA season, Pelicans.com writer Jim Eichenhofer shares an opponent and matchup breakdown of the Top 10 games for Pelicans fans to watch at the Smoothie King Center this season.
PHOENIX SUNS AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Friday, Jan. 19 (7 p.m.)
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Why it’s on the list
If the New Orleans fan base had decided to make a list for “most disliked opponent” a couple months into last season, there’s little doubt Phoenix would’ve been near the top of the heap. Coming off a fairly intense 2022 playoff series in which the Suns eliminated the Pelicans, the clubs met for a “baseball series” on a December weekend, resulting in some bitter feelings and heated emotions. Zion Williamson punctuated the first of two New Orleans victories with a highlight-reel, breakaway slam; the Pelicans captured the latter meeting in overtime. At the time, the Pelicans surpassed the Suns atop the Western Conference standings, but both teams faced significant adversity and lineup changes over the ensuing few months.
Pelicans players to watch
Each member of New Orleans’ high-scoring trio of Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson has enjoyed consistent success when facing Phoenix in the past, including Ingram’s dazzling first-round playoff series in 2022 (averages of 27.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, shot 41 percent from three-point range over six games). Ingram is also a career 40 percent three-point shooter vs. the Suns in 18 regular season matchups. McCollum’s highest career shooting percentage from the field against any opponent has come in Phoenix games (49.5 in 30 meetings), while Williamson puts up 28.5 points per contest when battling the purple and orange club (compared to his overall career average of 25.8). In addition, center Jonas Valanciunas’ career rate of 16.3 ppg is tied for his best against any foe (he’s also averaged 16.3 vs. Detroit).
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
On paper and based on last season’s records, this is the most difficult test during a late-January Pelicans homestand that also brings to town Charlotte, Utah and Oklahoma City. Oddly, following the Phoenix tilt, New Orleans will have three full days without a game, not returning to action until Feb. 23 against the Jazz. This stretch follows a daunting five-game road trip to Sacramento, Golden State, Denver and Dallas (twice).
Other 2023-24 games between these teams
Monday, April 1, Phoenix at New Orleans
Sunday, April 7, New Orleans at Phoenix
Pelicans Highlights: Zion Williamson racks up 35 points vs. Phoenix Suns 12/11/22
Behind the Steve Nash-led Suns of the mid-2000s, Phoenix established an early 11-4 lead in the all-time series, but since then, it’s been a very even affair. The Suns still hold an overall edge at 38-34, though the Pelicans reeled off eight consecutive head-to-head victories over parts of three seasons from 2016-19 – a period when Phoenix was one of the NBA’s worst teams. Since New Orleans joined the Western Conference in 2004-05, the ’07-08 Hornets and ’04-05 Suns are the only sides to register a 4-0 season-series sweep (the Pelicans also won 3-0 in ’17-18).
Highlighting a memorable New Orleans win
Dec. 11, 2022: New Orleans 129, Phoenix 124 (OT)
In a Sunday matinee, epic performances from Williamson (35 points, 14/21 FGs) and McCollum (29 points, 13/24 FGs) spearheaded the Pelicans to their second win over the Suns in three days. Off the bench, Naji Marshall and Larry Nance Jr. delivered 16 and 15 points, respectively, continuing the efficiency theme by combining on 12/15 shooting. In front of a playoff-like, sellout crowd of 18,681 fans, New Orleans improved to 18-8, stretching its lead over Phoenix to 2.5 games.