Table of Contents
The New Orleans Pelicans will enter the NBA playoffs as the 8th seed and massive underdogs against the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns favor by 10.5 points in the first game, which is understandable considering they were the best regular-season team by far, have beaten the Pelicans three times, and are finally back to full strength with Chris Paul back in the lineup.
Everything will have to go right for the Pelicans to win this series, but this is not the same team the Suns beat up on early in the season, as New Orleans now has CJ McCollum, and their role players are playing their best ball of the season.
This is a more even matchup than it might look on paper, and though the Pelicans are long shots to pull off the upset, I wouldn’t rule it out, especially if these three things happen.
Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum have to be consistently dominant
The most obvious thing that has to happen is for Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum to always dominate. They combined for 60 points in the lone win against the Suns this season, and they will have to score 50+ combined in every game for the Pels to have a chance.
The Suns have some excellent individual defenders, so it won’t be easy, especially because CJ and BI will both have challenging defensive assignments on the other end.
But New Orleans can’t afford for either of these guys to have an off night and won’t have a chance in the series if they struggle.
The Pelicans have to slow down Chris Paul
Herbert Jones will likely give the unenviable task of guarding Devin Booker, who has had big games in all of the matchups this year against the Pelicans. However, Booker is one of the best offensive players in the NBA, so stopping him is unlikely.
Booker scored 30 in a loss against the Pelicans, and New Orleans will probably have to live with big games from him.
They can’t live with Chris Paul going off for 15 or 18 assists, as he did in two wins over the Pels this season. The question is, who is going to guard him? McCollum is not a very good one-on-one defender; Jones will be busy with Booker, so the Pelicans might have to rely on rookie Jose Alvarado to try and slow down one of the most significant point guards of all time.
I think New Orleans has to live with Booker making tough shots and try to make things difficult for Paul, as he is the engine that drives the Suns to go, and New Orleans will at least have to slow him down to have a chance.
They might even resort to putting Ingram on him to see if his size and length can bother Paul somewhat. It will take a team effort defensively to keep Chris Paul from getting to his spots and setting up his teammates for wide-open shots.
Jonas Valanciunas and Jaxson Hayes have to dominate the boards
In their win over Phoenix this season, the Pels out-rebounded the Suns 53-37, including 16 offensive rebounds for New Orleans.
This is an area where they have an advantage over the more miniature Suns, who start Jae Crowder at power forward. This is where the Pels need significant contributions from Jaxson Hayes, who should be able to get some easy putbacks.
Valanciunas grabbed 17 rebounds in the win and will have to handily dominate Ayton on the boards for the Pelicans to have a fighting chance.
A lot will have to go right for the New Orleans Pelicans to beat the best team in the NBA four times, but if they get enormous contributions from their stars, they can slow down a legend and win the battle of the boards; they will have a chance.