Suns-Pelicans roundtable: How will the rest of the playoff series unfold?
After trading blows over the first four games of their first-round playoff matchup, the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans now enter a best-of-three situation tied at 2-2.
With the series in a deadlock, Arizona Sports hosts and editors gave their predictions on how the rest of the series will go as well as pinpointed the most important Sun moving forward in the playoff matchup:
How do you see the rest of the series playing out?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I refuse to stop believing that the Suns won’t advance in this series, so I won’t believe it until I see the team walk off the floor in defeat in an elimination game. I think the Suns are bolstered by a raucous Game 5 crowd at Footprint Center and win by double digits, lose Game 6 in New Orleans and then come home and win Game 7 and everybody will talk about what a great series it was (H/T Paul Westphal).
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I’m clinging to the belief that the Suns will win the series in seven games behind the strength of three-point shooting that is bound to surge on their side and regress on the New Orleans side. Building a strategy on “it’s bound to get better” isn’t exactly sound reasoning but the Suns shooters have been too good this season to be this cold this long.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I believe this became a long series once Devin Booker went out. The thought of a 4-5 game series and some rest sounded great but without Booker and with New Orleans gaining confidence minute by minute, if you are the Suns you just want to come out of this surviving. I think Phoenix wins at home in Games 5 and 7 with a Booker return in the final matchup of the series leading the way.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I still think the Suns win, but it takes seven games. And ultimately that’s ok. It would’ve been nice to have an easy first-round series, but this clearly isn’t it. If they can survive the Pelicans though, they’ll probably be stronger because of it. And there’s a good chance they’ll get Devin booker back in the next round. They’ll definitely be stronger because of that.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Game 5 will give us clarity to what we can expect the rest of the way. I don’t see a way the Suns can lose the series if they win game 5 — especially with one of those games being played at Footprint Center.
Kellan Olson, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I have absolutely no idea. This is not the Suns team we came to know over 82 games so I am not ashamed to say I am rather clueless. I’d say Suns in 7 but feel zero confidence in that.
Kevin Zimmerman, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: This isn’t the same team that won 64 games, but like the Suns’ 1-3 start in the regular season, I could see them flip a switch when backs are against the wall. I see it going seven and the Suns winning — whether Devin Booker walks out of the tunnel if it reaches a Game 7 is on my mind.
Tyler Drake, editor of ArizonaSports.com: The undisputed best team in the NBA has gotten roughed up this series, yet sit 2-2 with homecourt advantage on its side. Still, watching the Suns have issues with a lesser opponent has opened a lot of eyes in the Valley. I think the Suns figure things out in a big way in Game 5 and it bleeds into a Game 6 victory in New Orleans. Not only are they back on their homecourt, it’s Al McCoy’s 89th birthday. There’s no better way to celebrate!
Jake Anderson, editor of ArizonaSports.com: I still believe the Suns will win the series, albeit in six or seven games instead of four or five.
Who is the most important Sun moving forward in this series and why?
Marotta: I believed Cam Johnson was the most important Suns player going into the series and now with Devin Booker out and Phoenix really struggling to find reliable scoring sources, the onus is still on him.
Burns: Key guy for me moving forward is Cam Johnson because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Give me the Suns best three-point shooter in a time when they’re not shooting the three-ball well.
Gambo: The most important Sun is Chris Paul. He was great in Games 1 and 3 and not so much in Games 2 and 4. In a seven-game series usually your best players have to play well for you to win. Paul has to play great.
Lapinski: It has to be Paul. Everyone we’ve talked to around New Orleans says that’s the one guy on the Suns they fear right now. Ideally, other guys will step up around him — Ayton has — but CP3 has already shown in this series that he can take over a game. And the Suns have shown they go as he goes right now.
Wolf: Chris Paul. CP has got to play like he has all season long, especially in the clutch. We need to see him score 20-24 points, drop 12-16 dimes without turnovers and score late in the clutch. He’s done this all year long and I think we’ll see again starting tonight.
Olson: Cam Payne. If the Suns get the version of him we saw when Chris Paul was injured, they’ll win the next two games and the series.
Zimmerman: Mikal Bridges. While the answer probably should be Chris Paul, Bridges has yet to step into the void left by an absent Booker. Paul will need at least one more game of looking for his shot to get the Suns into the conference semifinals, and Deandre Ayton’s shots should come, too, but Bridges must pile more on his shoulders on the offensive end to give Phoenix the other dimension that we thought was an improvement on last year’s club. So far, he hasn’t.
Drake: I’m rolling with Mikal Bridges as the most important player to the Suns’ success this series. Aside from his lockdown defense, Bridges needs to help make up for Booker’s absence in Game 5 and potentially longer on the offensive side of the ball. It’s clear the team is going to need a group effort to replace Booker’s productivity and Bridges is an important cog in that.
Anderson: Will Booker play again this series? Who knows. But in his absence, Paul will have to truly be the Point God, as Phoenix will require both his scoring prowess and ability to get his teammates going early and often to avoid an enormous first-round upset and a disappointing end to the greatest regular season in franchise history.