New Orleans Pelicans at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: With a couple of days distance from the loss, what did you take from the game against Atlanta?

Couper Moorhead: Let’s acknowledge that the game in its totality contained many of the same successes and mistakes of previous HEAT losses, with stretches of fantastic offense and lulls of inconsistent defense. Let’s instead talk for a second about the final play of the game, when Miami, down two, had a chance to force overtime or steal the win, as Erik Spoelstra put it. First, Miami ran a play and didn’t ask anyone to break the defense down in an isolation set – something fans typically clamor for in those situations despite the inherent risk (running out of time if the set is well defended) that come with those sorts of calls. Second, that Dwyane Wade passed up both a shot to win and a shot to tie in order to pass to Josh Richardson for a wide-open three, the sort of shot Richardson had been hitting at a better than 60 percent clip prior to the game. Wade said at practice Thursday that those were shots he would have forced a little himself in his previous years, but these days he doesn’t feel the need to add to his list of game-winners. It’s Richardson’s time now, so to speak, to build his profile, and Wade says he is consistently trying to empower Miami’s young player.

Joe Beguiristain: While the game had its fair share of ups and downs, the fact of the matter is Miami had a chance to win the game at the end. And as Josh Richardson said after practice on Thursday, you have to live with it since he got off a good look.

But even before that point, Richardson played a big role in the HEAT’s comeback from a 19-point deficit in the third quarter, as the 25-year-old scored nine points in the fourth and put Miami up briefly with 5:04 to play. The HEAT also played better defensively and held the Hawks to just 38.5 percent shooting in the second half. All told, they ended up with 22 deflections and a season-high 20 steals against an Atlanta team that struggles with taking care of the ball. Naturally, Richardson and Rodney McGruder had four and three deflections, respectively, but Wayne Ellington actually led the team with five on the night.

And although racking up that many deflections is rare, it’ll take that kind of effort moving forward to get Miami back in the win column.

Julius Randle2: How have the Pelicans changed this year, and how will those changes affect this matchup?

Couper: New Orleans came into last season with one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the league, but after DeMarcus Cousins tore his achilles the team had to pivot. So, they traded for Nikola Mirotić at least season’s trade deadline to give them a stretch-four next to the many-talents of Anthony Davis. Then, when Cousins left for Golden State in the offseason, the Pelicans added Julius Randle from the Lakers, with Randle now playing like a potential Sixth Man of the Year. So, they had one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the league, then they changed personnel, and now they still have one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the league.

Joe: The Pelicans added a handful of guys over the offseason, including Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton (who’s out with a fractured left finger), Wesley Johnson and Jahlil Okafor. And while Payton should make some noise once he returns (he recorded a triple-double in the season opener), Randle has been New Orleans’ biggest addition.

In fact, the former Laker is nearly averaging a double-double off the bench with 18.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 55.6 percent shooting. Perhaps most importantly, Randle ensures the opposition doesn’t get any kind of breather once Anthony Davis heads to the bench (although the duo plays together at times, too). With their ability to pick apart defenses both off the dribble and off the catch in post-up situations, Davis and Randle keep most teams on their heels. In other words, there’s a reason why the Pelicans are one of the best offenses in the league at 112.9 points per 100 possessions.   

As such, it’ll be fun to see how James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo approach both frontcourt players on Friday night.

3: Outside of Anthony Davis, how will Miami have to focus their defensive efforts?

Couper: The frontcourt is going to get most of the attention heading into the game, but despite not having many big names the HEAT will need to be careful with the Pelicans’ cadre of perimeter options. No, New Orleans doesn’t rank particularly highly in three-point volume of efficiency. They do, however, have plenty of capable of willing shooters, with Mirotić and E’Twaun Moore deserving of plenty of attention, Darius Miller possibly being one of the most underrated shooters in the league and recently added Wesley Johnson also adding some range. If Jrue Holiday was shooting better than 28 percent from deep, which he most certainly will soon, then the Pelicans might be even better than the No. 5 offensive ranking they currently sit at, behind only Milwaukee, Toronto, Golden State and the L.A. Clippers.

Miami’s defense isn’t struggling nearly as much as it may seem from afar, but a complete effort against this Pelicans team would go a long way, at least as a proof of concept.

Joe: While New Orleans has struggled from deep this season, the team is extremely dangerous from the restricted area and is shooting 64.2 percent on 35.0 attempts per game from that zone. Now, Davis and Randle obviously play a huge role in that, but Jrue Holiday is shooting 64.5 percent on those looks. Thanks to Holiday’s ability to get by his man and attack the basket (he’s among the league’s elite with 17.5 drives per contest), he unlocks so much for the Pelicans' offense.

With that in mind, guys like Richardson and McGruder need to make sure they stay in front of Holiday and fight through screens, while the rest of the squad remains quick with their defensive rotations.

We’ll see how it all shakes out.

INJURY UPDATE:  Justise Winslow (Right Knee Contusion) went through Friday morning's shootaround and is ready to go, but Derrick Jones Jr. (Right Hamstring Strain) will not play. Goran Dragić (Right Knee Injury), Tyler Johnson (Right Hamstring Strain), Dion Waiters (Left Ankle Surgery), Duncan Robinson (Sioux Falls Assignment) and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) are also out.

Pelicans at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won seven of their last nine games against the Pelicans in Miami.
  • Miami is 7-13, while New Orleans enters the contest at 11-11.
  • Josh Richardson leads the HEAT in scoring at 20.5 points per game.
  • Anthony Davis leads the Pelicans in points (27.1), rebounds (12.9) and blocks (2.7) per game.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 105.4 (26)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.2 (8)
  • Pelicans Offense: 112.9 (5)
  • Pelicans Defense: 111.6 (26)

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