New Orleans Pelicans at Miami HEAT Game Preview
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket. The game is presented by Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida.
1: What did you like most about Miami’s first preseason victory?
Couper Moorhead: Orlando went almost with a full dress rehearsal, playing their starters right up to the end of the game. Miami, on the other hand, went with their bench and two-way players during the same stretch, so even though the Magic overcame a sizeable deficit in the third quarter it was good to see Rodney McGruder effectively lead the HEAT to a 90-89 victory against Orlando’s regulars.
With a number of Miami’s regulars missing time this preseason – Josh Richardson returned Monday and looked like his usual self – McGruder has shouldered a 20 percent usage rate while leading the team in minutes and posting a pristine 62.2 true-shooting percentage. This is always a good time of year to get players ballhandling reps when they might normally not get them, and it’s a small sample size as we’ll be mentioning for about the next month, but McGruder appears to have legitimately expanded his game, creating floaters for himself out of pick-and-roll and hitting centers for lobs, and it should only serve him and the team well this season.
Joe Beguiristain: Above all else, I was impressed with the HEAT’s defense.
After not playing quite up to par on that end through the first three preseason games, Miami stifled Orlando and held the squad to just 37.8 percent shooting on the night. And although the HEAT’s perimeter stoppers in Rodney McGruder (yup, he’s being mentioned yet again), Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow did a nice job, Miami’s bigs also played a part.
In fact, Hassan Whiteside and Kelly Olynyk led the team with 23 contested shots combined (12 for Whiteside, 11 for Olynyk), as both guys made smart decisions in pick-and-roll defense and protected the rim quite well (Whiteside had a team-high three blocks).
When you also factor in McGruder’s continued improvement as an attacker and distributor (he had 19 points and five assists, both of which would have been career-highs if it was the regular season), you realize it was a pretty successful night.
2: How do you expect the HEAT to handle the rest of preseason?
Couper: First we should note that there’s a chance that Wayne Ellington and Derrick Jones Jr. get back on the floor Wednesday night, and that Goran Dragić is questionable after banging knees against Orlando. But with only two preseason games left – the HEAT had the maximum number of game, six, scheduled – it’s probably getting close to that time where certain players start resting to get ready for the real deal next week and the players trying to make the roster get more chances to do so. It’s all normal for a preseason, except this year will likely be remembered as the preseason when the team never had enough players healthy to be able to attempt a full rotation dress rehearsal.
Joe: Since the HEAT allocated a decent amount of minutes to rotation guys on Monday, I expect them to start resting some players over the next two games. And while it remains to be seen who will sit, you should expect to see the young guys get a lot of burn.
Of those budding prospects, I’m looking forward to seeing Yante Maten and Duncan Robinson continue to advance their games. Although Robinson has been able to show his range with more playing time, Maten took full advantage of his opportunity on Friday against the Wizards and came through with a sharp all-around performance.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
3: What has changed about the Pelicans this year?
Couper: The Pelicans went from having one of the most interesting frontcourts in the entire league, to losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn achilles and eventually free agency, to again having one of the most interesting frontcourts in the entire league. Anthony Davis is a no-doubt superstar, a player worthy of MVP consideration whenever he is healthy (though he is out Wednesday night), Nikola Mirotić is a strong compliment as a stretch-four who can get threes up in high volume and new addition Julius Randle could be one of the most effective bench players in the league. The Pelicans have more shooting than your might think and Jrue Holiday is a problem no matter what position he’s playing (he is out as well), but just like last year it’s the frontcourt, just a different frontcourt, that makes this team so unique.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, the Pelicans’ biggest personnel change over the summer was replacing DeMarcus Cousins (who signed with the Warriors in free agency) with Julius Randle in the frontcourt.
Otherwise from a team-wide perspective, it seems as though New Orleans has made a point to take more 3-pointers than a year ago. In fact, the Pelicans are averaging 40 attempts from deep this preseason after taking just 28.2 per game in 2017-18. Of course it’s a small sample size (three games), but it’s certainly a trend to keep track of.
With Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore out Wednesday night (Anthony Davis is out too, for that matter), you should expect Nikola Mirotić to take the lion’s share of New Orleans’ treys. And while the 27-year-old shot just 2-of-11 from long range against the Knicks on Friday, he still led the team with 19 points and a plus-eight rating.
Long story short, Miami has to make sure it has a body on Mirotić and Randle at all times.
Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragić, Hassan Whiteside, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and James Johnson are out.