Phoenix Suns Matchups vs New Orleans Pelicans to Dictate the Series

Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns square off against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Pelicans fought their way through the Play-In Tournament to secure the eighth seed while the Suns cruised to the top seed.

Although the Suns remain heavily favored in this series, the Pelicans are a well-coached, up-and-coming team that cannot be taken lightly. When these teams take the floor, these key matchups deserve our attention.

Mikal Bridges vs Brandon Ingram

The Warden vs mini-KD in Brandon Ingram represent possibly the most important matchup in this series. Ingram resembled New Orleans’ best player this year and their go-to scorer. He dropped 27 points to beat the Spurs in the first Play-In game and followed that up with a piece vs the Clippers. Needless to say, he’s coming into this series on a roll.

The Pelicans do not carry too many shot creators aside from him and CJ McCollum, so limiting Ingram promises to sink their entire offense.

Luckily the Suns have the right man for the job in Bridges. The Phoenix Defensive Player of the Year candidate wields enough length to contest the taller Ingram’s shots, and Ingram is not big enough to overpower Bridges like some wings. So far they’ve split the season matchup as far as success goes; Ingram scored 28 points in one game, and was held to just 16 in the other.

Bridges’ own advancements on offense may also prove influential in this series. Ingram cannot afford to expend energy on the defensive being responsible for so much on offense. If Bridges can make him work on both sides of the ball, it would pay major dividends as the series progresses.

Deandre Ayton vs The NOLA Bigs

Offensive rebounding and second chance points are a major part of the Pelicans’ offense. They rank third in the league in both those marks, grabbing 12.0 offensive rebounds per game leading to 15.1 second chance points per game. Their bigs, especially Jonas Valanciunas, are adept at crashing the glass.

Valanciunas seems to go off every time he plays the Suns. This year was no different, as he averaged 20.7 points and 14.7 boards per game in his four contests vs the Suns. That rebounding number is especially glaring, and it will be up to Ayton to keep Valanciunas and the rest of the Pels off the glass.

Ayton only played in two of those games against the Pelicans this season but was uncharacteristically bad rebounding the ball, only averaging five boards per game, which is less than half of his season average.

That’s an untenable number against a team that looks to rebounding as a major point of attack. If Ayton is able to limit the advantage the Pelicans usually gain from their rebounding, their offense would take a huge hit.

The Cams vs Alvarado and Murphy III

Bench play represented a major factor in New Orleans’ turnaround this year. The unit started off terribly, but Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III were able to help turn the ship around and make the bench a real strength for the Pels.

Known for his inbounds sneak attacks, Alvarado is an active defender that causes guards all kinds of problems. Murphy has also shown himself to be a good on ball defender and a three point marksman.

The Suns will counter those two with reserve stalwarts Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson. Payne had been dealing with a minor knee issue, so if he’s compromised at all Alvarado can give him some trouble. Johnson has also looked incredibly rusty since coming back from his injury.

But if Payne gets his usual bounce and Johnson finds his rhythm, the two of them can give the Suns a clear advantage every game.

Winning or losing these individual battles can be the difference between winning the series handily, or having to slug it out. Aside from these matchups, the Suns have a pretty distinct advantage everywhere else on the roster, namely the dynamic duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

Lethal Weapons vs Each Playoff Opponent for Suns. dark. Next

Those two will win their matchups just about every night, making it hard for the Suns to lose a series like this, and if everyone else is able to handle their assignments, it’s almost  impossible.