As Western Conference Playoff Race Burns Brighter Than Ever, Pelicans Try To Block the Suns

NEW ORLEANS – Back in mid-January, the Phoenix Suns decimated the New Orleans Pelicans on the back of a 52-point barrage from Devin Booker. Two and a half months later, the Pels will face them again with both squads fighting for playoff position. The Suns are battling to avoid the play-in; Phoenix lands at the seventh seed, just two games behind the five-seeded Pels.

In his age 35 season, Kevin Durant remains one of the NBA’s best players. He’s still an offensive cyborg, averaging 26.7 points and 5.2 assists a night on an elite 63.4% true shooting. Durant does it from all over the floor, boasting elite efficiency at the rim (75.7%), and from mid-range (50.9%) and from deep (42.5%).

Durant’s secondary playmaking is a critical part of his offensive game given the Suns’ lack of passing outside of Devin Booker. His mid-range is impossible to guard and defenses have to step up. Especially with Jonas Valanciunas in deep drop, the Suns could give the Pelicans trouble hitting pocket passes and laydowns off of KD’s drives:

The aforementioned Booker torched the Pelicans in their one meeting this season, smoking them from the mid-range. Booker drained nine mid-range jumpers en route to 52 points, burning New Orleans’ drop coverage and hunting matchups. The Pelicans normally don’t give up many mid-range jumpers, placing in the bottom five in opponent mid-range frequency (23.2%).

Most of those buckets came against defenders not named Herb Jones, who spent most of those possessions guarding off of the ball. It could be advantageous for Herb to check Booker for more of these possessions to limit his mid-range shotmaking.

Despite Phoenix’s solid defensive rating, there are clear weak spots the Pelicans can exploit. Jusuf Nurkic shares similar defensive limitations to Valanciunas given his poor mobility. New Orleans’ small-ball lineups with Larry Nance Jr. or even Trey Murphy/Zion at the five. Nurkic isn’t a good interior scorer and isn’t equipped to punish small lineups offensively. If the Pelicans can space out Phoenix’s poor perimeter defense with Murphy, McCollum and any other spacers, they’ll open up easy driving lanes to score. 

This will be the first of two matchups with the Phoenix Suns to end this season, one at home and one on the road. If the Suns can escape the play-in, this could be a future playoff matchup to watch. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are a phenomenal duo and limiting them will be key to winning late in the season.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

Most Recent Starting Lineups

Phoenix SunsNew Orleans Pelicans
G – Devin BookerG – CJ McCollum
G – Grayson AllenG – Herb Jones
G – Bradley BealF – Trey Murphy III
F – Kevin DurantF – Zion Williamson
C – Jusuf NurkicC – Jonas Valanciunas


Phoenix Suns: Damion Lee (knee) is OUT.

New Orleans Pelicans: Jose Alvarado (right oblique strain) and Brandon Ingram (left knee bone contusion) are OUT.

Who: Phoenix Suns (43-31) at New Orleans Pelicans (45-29)

Season Series

  • Jan. 19: Suns def. Pelicans, 123-109
  • Apr. 1: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans
  • Apr. 7: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Apr. 1, 7:00 PM CDT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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