Miami HEAT at New Orleans Pelicans Game Preview

Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant

The Miami HEAT face the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night at Smoothie King Center. The HEAT fell to the Pelicans 109-94 in their last meeting on Dec. 23. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: Now that we’re in the stretch run of the season, post All-Star, what do you see as the most pressing questions about the HEAT?

Couper Moorhead: While fans surely are a little concerned about the HEAT’s recent handful of losses headed into the break, in reality those losses aren’t all that different than Miami’s stretch of incredible success earlier in January. As we’ve noted time and time again in this space, games that come down to just a few possessions are liable to go in just about every direction over the course of the season. Close games are close games. Losing some comes with the territory.

So what, then, is the bigger question? It’s what will Miami’s rotation look like? Kelly Olynyk is doubtful for Friday night in New Orleans but ultimately the HEAT are going to have a bunch of players deserving of rotation minutes and not enough rotation minutes to give all of them. You usually expect teams to try to settle on certain groups so they can develop game-to-game chemistry, but the answer to this lineup riddle might be that Erik Spoelstra is challenged to find the right groups that fit the opponent of the night. Having a ton of playable players is a good problem to have, but fitting them all together might be a day-to-day process.

Joe Beguiristain: Outside of what the rotation will look like, I have two questions about the HEAT heading into the home stretch: Will they build more consistency? Will they take care of business at home?

In regards to that first question, things have been tough with a handful of injuries and 19 different starting lineups, but Miami should get some guys back sooner rather than later. In particular, Rodney McGruder is very close to a return. After logging his third full-contact practice on Thursday, the 26-year-old was assigned to the Skyforce to get a few games in before making his season debut with the HEAT. We’ll see how he responds to the two practices and two games over the next four days with Sioux Falls.

As for the second question I posed, Miami has a number of winnable games at home to close out the year. In fact, eight of the HEAT’s final 15 home games are against teams below .500. In order to make the postseason, Miami will have to win a majority of those matchups.

2: What did you take away from the previous game with New Orleans?

Couper: This pre-Christmas game was actually fairly evenly played were it not for the Pelicans winning the third quarter 27-16. And even then, even with the Pelicans leading by as much as 24 at one point, they never topped 30 in any quarter despite shooting an incredible 15-of-25 from three, including eight combined from Darius Miller and Ian Clark. It wasn’t one of Miami’s better efforts overall, but regress New Orleans’ shooting back to something resembling normal and this is probably yet another game on Miami’s ever-growing list of clutch contests. That being said, none of the Pelicans primary rotation players had to play a ton of minutes due to the sizeable late lead, so we can’t read too much into some of the late-game minutes that featured players deeper on the bench. 

Bam AdebayoJoe: Although the HEAT did a solid job defensively against Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, E'Twaun Moore and Ian Clark caught fire and helped propel New Orleans to victory.

That said, it’s important to note that the HEAT were without Hassan Whiteside in that last matchup, while Goran Dragić and James Johnson returned from multi-game absences at that time.

Despite having guys in and out of the lineup, Bam Adebayo really thrived against the Pelicans that last time out and came through with some impressive defensive sequences when matched up with Davis. Hopefully the rookie can do the same once again.

3: Without DeMarcus Cousins, how does this matchup change?

Couper: There’s no replacing someone of Cousins’ size and skills, especially given his ability to act as a playmaker from the three-point line and make life easier for Anthony Davis. The Pelicans are a much more traditional team without him, but they’re still plenty dangerous especially since adding Nikola Mirotić before the trade deadline. Mirotić has been one of the league’s better shooters this season, and being able to space the floor from the four spot at least gives New Orleans an approximation of the spacing Cousins offers. It’s unclear if Mirotić will start, however, with Emeka Okafor making his return to the league and starting recently at center.

Joe: While New Orleans has gone just 4-5 since Cousins went down against the Rockets on Jan. 26, it won three straight before the All-Star Break. Of course, Davis played a major role in those victories, averaging 41.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.3 blocks per game on 58.4 percent shooting over that span.

Yup, that’s pretty wild.

Although a lot falls on Davis’ shoulders with Cousins out, the Pelicans have a few capable scorers in stalwart Jrue Holiday and newcomer Nikola Mirotić. In fact, Holiday has quietly tallied career highs in points per game (18.6) and field goal percentage (48.8) thus far this season. Given the 27-year-old’s ability to score from pretty much anywhere on the floor, Miami will likely have its hands full on Friday night.  

760x442-MIANOPH2H-180223.jpg

Highlights:

Dec. 23 – Pelicans at HEAT

March 15 – Pelicans at HEAT  

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT are 30-28 on the year.
  • The Pelicans have won three straight and enter the contest at 31-26.
  • Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (17.4) and assists (4.7) per game.
  • Anthony Davis leads New Orleans in points (27.4) and blocks (2.1) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.1 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.4 (8)
  • Pelicans Offense: 107.7 (8)
  • Pelicans Defense: 106.7 (19)