Willie Green’s contributions to the Phoenix Suns’ Western Conference championship last season were a big factor in him being hired as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Green’s old team and his new one will meet for the first time Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Pelicans have won just once in seven games this season, but three losses on the homestand that concluded Saturday were only by a combined 13 points.
“It’s not necessarily just wins and losses for us,” said Green, a former Suns assistant coach. “It’s wins and it’s the opportunity to learn, and we’re learning from every single game. These guys understand the big picture. They understand that we’re trying to build a program here.
“We have to go through it, but adversity builds character, and we’re building right now. These same losses that we’re having, we’re going to win some of these games in the next couple weeks — three weeks, a month down the line — and it’s going to help us build as a team.”
New Orleans hasn’t had Zion Williamson, who remains sidelined indefinitely due to offseason foot surgery.
Brandon Ingram joined him on the sideline because of a hip contusion as the Pelicans lost to the New York Knicks 123-117 on Saturday. Ingram’s status for Tuesday is uncertain.
“It’s going down to the stretch every game,” said guard Devonte’ Graham, who had 17 points against the Knicks. “We’ve just got to figure out ways to close games, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to — those last four or five minutes and making plays.”
The Suns haven’t looked exactly like the team that took Milwaukee to six games before losing in the NBA Finals to Milwaukee as Green assisted head coach Monty Williams.
But they’re coming off one of their better performances of the young season — a 101-92 home victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.
Phoenix trailed by 14 points midway through the second quarter but ended the first half with a 19-2 spurt that became a 50-12 run that produced a 24-point lead late in the third quarter.
“We think we’re capable of that all the time,” said guard Cameron Johnson, who had 10 points off the bench. “You keep your head down, keep pushing, keep trying to get better, keep trying to get back to high-level championship basketball. I think we’ve got a good team — good guys who always stick together.
“That period of the game showed it.”
The decisive run was fueled by the Suns’ fast break and helped them end a two-game losing streak.
“It was just getting out, picking up the pace a little bit,” said guard Devin Booker, who had 27 points and nine assists. “Just playing basketball.”
Deandre Ayton added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 12 rebounds before the leaving the game in the second half with a right-leg contusion that didn’t appear serious. Chris Paul had 16 points and 10 assists.
The Suns missed their first nine 3-pointers and finished 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc, but they helped make up for that by forcing 19 Cleveland turnovers.