Time: 6 p.m. MST
The Phoenix Suns find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they head to the Big Easy. For the first time in 2013-14, they’re coming off a loss. Sunday’s 103-96 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder was very encouraging given the fact Phoenix played short-handed in second half and more or less proved to be its own worst enemy (23 turnovers). In the end, though, it still shows up as a tally in the right column of the standings, so Tuesday night’s Western Conference affair against the new-look New Orleans Pelicans — both from a name/logo and personnel standpoint — will be all about how Jeff Hornacek’s squad responds to its first bit of adversity on the campaign.
Who wins the starting point guard battle?
For at least two nights, there won’t be any question as to who is the starting point guard for the Suns. As reported Monday, Goran Dragic will sit out the team’s final two games of the road trip after he re-injured his left ankle in the second half of Sunday’s contest.
Dragic’s injury paves the way for a matchup between two of the league’s most athletic point guards: Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe and New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday.
Both are adjusting to life in their new respective organizations, however both are also putting up impressive numbers — Bledsoe (22.0 points, 8.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game) and Holiday (18.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game) — in the early portion of the season.
This battle likely comes down to one category, however.
Bledsoe played a season-high 40 minutes in Oklahoma City, and although he had a big hand in keeping the game close, handling the bulk of the point guard minutes in the second half seemed to take its toll on his decision making (eight turnovers).
As a team, the Pelicans are seventh-best in the NBA in fewest turnovers committed (14.0 per game), but Holiday has had some issues remembering what team he’s on from time-to-time. And no, not just in pre-game introductions. In two of New Orleans’ three games, the fourth-year guard has given the ball away at least four times.
It’s simple. Control the ball, win the head-to-head battle.
Do the Suns hold Anthony Davis under 10 rebounds?
Lost in the headlines — beneath the returns of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, the early-season struggles of the Miami Heat and the surprising starts by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers — has been the remarkable play of Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.
The former No. 1 overall pick has developed a two-way game between his rookie and sophomore seasons, and the results have been instantaneous. “The Brow” is averaging 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game and already has back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound performances — something he didn’t all of last season.
While his ability to score in a multitude of ways — layups off the dribble, pull-up jump shots, floaters and of course alley oops — is surprising to say the least given his offensive deficiencies at Kentucky and even during his first year in New Orleans, Davis’ biggest threat is his presence on the glass.
At age 20, Davis’ seven-foot-four wingspan already makes him a terror on the glass in the NBA, and Tuesday night it will be up to the Suns to limit his effectiveness.
A collection of Charlotte Bobcats’ players attempted to do just that in a 105-84 loss to the Pelicans Saturday night. And although they were “successful” in keeping him under 10 rebounds, Davis had no problem filling up the rest of the stat sheet with 25 points, six blocks, six steals and four assists.
New Orleans typically keeps Davis at the four with a rotation of Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma and rookie Jeff Withey playing behind him at the five, so the task of containing the second-year standout will most likely be left to a combination of Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris.
Where does the offensive come from for Phoenix?
In the absence of Dragic, the Suns certainly will have to get a little creative in terms of generating points.
While Dragic doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboard with 30-point performances, the team’s leading scorer from a season ago is definitely someone opposing teams try to game plan against when facing the Suns. Sunday night, Frye finally found his groove (19 points) and Dionte Christmas and Gerald Green had no problem playing alongside Bledsoe, as the duo combined for 25 points in 39 minutes.
But outside of Frye and the two reserve shooting guards, complimentary pieces like P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee and the Morris Twins were virtual no-shows at the offensive end, combining for 15 points in 100 minutes of action.
Bledsoe will likely get his against the Pelicans, but if the Suns have any chance of securing their first road victory, he’s going to need a handful of his teammates to be productive offensively. If not, Phoenix might be in line for its first blowout loss of 2013-14.