Suns far superior to Pelicans in first match-up of rising teams in the West
The New Orleans Pelicans and the Phoenix Suns are generally considered two of the rising teams in the NBA’s Western Conference.
The Pelicans have a strong young nucleus featuring Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball.
The Suns went 8-0 in the “Orlando Bubble” last season and added a savvy veteran in former New Orleans guard Chris Paul to a roster featuring young standouts such as Devin Booker and Jae Crowder.
Both teams were off to 2-1 starts as they met Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Suns are farther along than the Pelicans – or at least they were in this game.
It was a beat-down: Phoenix 111, New Orleans 86.
It wasn’t really that close. The Suns led by as many as 40 points.
The Suns shared the basketball better, they shot 3-pointers better, they played better defense and they showed far superior depth.
The Suns looked like one of the rising teams in the West. The Pelicans didn’t.
The Pelicans made eight of their first nine shots and took an 18-14 lead. It was all downhill from there.
They continued to shoot well for the duration of the first quarter, but so did the Suns.
The Pelicans shot 72 percent from the floor, but still trailed 31-29 at the end of the period. The Suns made seven of 11 3-pointers and the Pelicans made one of four.
On the TNT interview at the end of the quarter, coach Stan Van Gundy called it the Pelicans’ best offensive quarter of the season, but added “We’re just not defending at all.”
They never did.
Things got worse in the second quarter as the Suns used a 17-4 run to open a 51-38 lead.
They extended the lead to 66-44 at halftime.
Nothing that happened after halftime was particularly noteworthy for the Pelicans, except end of the bench played hard during garbage time.
The Suns made 19 of 47 3-pointers, the Pelicans made 3 of 24.
The Suns made 18 of 19 free throws, the Pelicans made 9 of 18.
Suns coach Monty Williams cut his NBA head-coaching teeth in New Orleans, intersecting with Paul for one season in 2010-11.
He was in charge of the early days of the Anthony Davis era.
Watching the Suns school the Pelicans reminded of the evolution of the Pelicans.
Williamson is in his second season as the young projected superstar just as Paul was when he arrived in 2005. If Williamson has a career comparable to Paul’s he’ll be a New Orleans legend.
If Williamson becomes a New Orleans legend it will mean he surpassed the Crescent City tenure of Davis, who was outstanding but never elevated his team the way Paul did.
Williams is a defensive-minded coach whose teams in New Orleans always exceeded projections.
Van Gundy is a kindred spirit with Williams as a defensive coach, one with a longer tenure and a stronger resume.
Van Gundy’s track record suggests he will maximize his team’s potential as Williams did when he was in New Orleans.
There is reason to believe that Williamson will evolve into someone more similar to Paul than Davis.
The Pelicans figure to be much better overall than they played Tuesday. It’s unlikely the Suns will be as a good as they played Tuesday on a nightly basis.
Tuesday was a terrible night, but this era is just getting started.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…