It’s been over 20 years since a Western Conference team qualified for the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, but through one-fourth of the 2019-20 regular season, Phoenix sits in eighth place despite a 9-11 mark. Another squad, Minnesota, is seventh at 10-10. As a result, despite a poor start to the campaign at 6-15, New Orleans enters Thursday’s home matchup against the Suns still within shouting distance of the top eight, having a chance to cut the gap to just 2.5 games back tonight. To do so, the Pelicans will need to improve their performance at both ends of the court, but particularly defensively, where they rank 27th in the NBA in efficiency (113.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).
“First, we want to be the aggressor on the defensive end,” forward Brandon Ingram said this morning, alluding to New Orleans taking a tone-setting, early lead at Phoenix on Nov. 21. “Every time we have a really good start in the first quarter, we build our rhythm off of the defensive end, getting out in transition, getting to the rim, kicking out for threes and continuing from there.”
“We were just running our stuff the right way, getting to open space, making our shots,” center Jaxson Hayes said of the win over the Suns, which was the Pelicans’ most recent victory.
JJ Redick was a major catalyst in beating Phoenix, firing in 26 points and going 5/8 from three-point range, part of a 10/14 shooting night in a TNT game.
Other notes after Thursday’s shootaround:
Kenrich Williams (ankle) and Derrick Favors (personal reasons) remain listed as questionable on the Pelicans’ injury report. …
New Orleans caught a break Nov. 21 when Phoenix point guard Ricky Rubio did not play; the Suns won six of the first 10 games Rubio played in this season, but since he was injured in mid-November and sidelined for a handful of games, they’ve gone just 2-7 overall.
“He has a huge impact,” Hayes said of Rubio. “They were winning a lot more games when he was playing. He’s just a really good point guard. He’s definitely going to have a huge impact.”
“He’s another really good player who is really the head of their snake,” Ingram said of the Suns. “They feed off of him, with his IQ and how he passes the basketball, how he gets into the lane and draws and kicks. We have to contain him. They have (other good players like) Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre. They have good guys across the board. It’s important to respect those guys, but make sure they know we’re there (physically from a defensive standpoint) all night.” …
Hayes on preparing for Phoenix while facing the Suns a second time in a span of exactly two weeks: “It helps, because we know their people a lot more, because we played against them. They’ve got some new pieces back like Rubio, maybe (Aron) Baynes.”
Baynes was a DNP on Nov. 21 and like Rubio, has made a big difference in the win column for Phoenix. The Suns are 7-6 when Baynes plays, but just 2-5 when he does not. He was sidelined in Wednesday’s loss at Orlando, having already been ruled out a day earlier.