Two recently dethroned Western Conference leaders meet on Saturday evening, as the New Orleans Pelicans head to Phoenix to take on the Suns.
The Suns have slipped to fourth in the standings, but they remain a serious threat, especially at home.
This has quickly developed into the NBA’s latest rivalry, with the Pelicans beating the Suns twice last week.
Their first win included a 360-degree dunk from Zion Williamson, with that showboating reigniting tension from their Play-off meeting last season.
However, the Pelicans have suffered a couple of defeats since seeing off the Suns, so both sides have something to prove in Arizona this weekend.
What: New Orleans Pelicans @ Phoenix Suns
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, Arizona
When: 21:00 ET, Saturday December 17th
How to watch: NBA League Pass
The visitors started the season being backed for a Play-off spot, but they’ve forced their way towards the top of the Western Conference.
They’ve now moved into +1800 to win the NBA title this season, moving clear of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks.
The Suns remain +800 but there’s not as much between these two sides as those prices suggest.
Last season’s Play-offs showed that the Pelicans could cause problems for the Suns, with New Orleans continuing to improve since their first-round exit.
They made a late surge into the Play-in last season and pushed the league’s top side, all without Williamson.
He’s emerged as an MVP candidate this term with some explosive displays, including consecutive 35-point games in their wins over the Suns last week.
He’s a +2200 shot for MVP this term, a price which is bound to tumble if his current scoring streak continues.
With their former top draft pick finally delivering on his promise in a talented roster, the Pelicans should expect a deep run in the postseason this time around. They may even get a bit of revenge on the Suns along the way.
As strong as the Pels look going into this weekend, they are making a difficult trip. The Suns have slid down the standings but they’ve got clear issues on the road, where they’ve got a 5-9 record so far this term.
Just two of the top seven in the West have a positive away record this term, so they aren’t alone there.
However, the Suns make up for it with an excellent return at home. They’ve won 12 of 15 home matches this term, while they’ve just finished up a trick run.
Phoenix were on the road for six of their last seven games, with the other at home to the league-leading Boston Celtics. They won only once in that run, but it came in their last game.
The hosts will be out to build on that victory, especially with Devin Booker back in the fold. The All-Star guard is back in the side after missing the second meeting with the Pelicans last weekend.
The Suns aren’t quite up to full strength just yet, but they’re close.
The Suns are a solid side ranked ninth in the league for their defensive rating, but they meet a Pels side in red-hot scoring form. The visitors have the league’s best points-per-game record on their travels, having averaged 118.3 points per away trip so far this term.
That scoring record should give us a good clash in Phoenix, with Chris Paul and Booker likely to lead the fightback for the hosts.
However, neither of those two have been able to match the scoring rate of Williamson, who heads into this clash as unquestionably the Pelicans’ star man.
The forward has been New Orleans’ top scorer in eight of their last nine games. He’s scored a minimum of 25 points in each of his last eight games, including a 31-point haul in their recent visit to the Utah Jazz.
That threat makes him one to watch here, while it also marks this clash out as a high-scoring game.
The Pelicans scored 128 and 129 points against the Suns in their last two meetings and their away scoring record is impressive.
While Phoenix tend to impress at home, they could struggle to match a Pels side which is still on a high and amped up for what should be another heated clash in the desert.
The visitors come into this one as underdogs despite everything they’ve proved this term, so look to them for another upset.