New Orleans Pelicans at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Pelicans 120-112 in their last meeting on March 15. 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: Despite another injury, to a starter no less, how did the HEAT pull out another shorthanded victory?

Couper Moorhead: Let’s see, where do we begin?

While Dion Waiters sprained his ankle in the first quarter and the team was already without starters Goran Dragić, James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, the HEAT still found enough offense to beat a Dallas team having quite a shooting night itself (17-of-35 from deep). Well, and then some.

The HEAT shot 16-of-25 from deep, 28-of-43 on jumpers overall, posted the eighth-best offensive rating in franchise history (133.5), the second-best shooting percentage on jumpers in franchise history (65 percent), and . . . deep breath . . . posted the single best true-shooting percentage the team has ever had at 75.7 percent. Not only that, their true-shooting was the 13th best for any team in the league, in a single game, since 1983-84 and the very best among any team scoring fewer than 120 points.

So, yeah, they had a pretty good night.

Joe Beguiristain: Well, they pretty much couldn’t miss. As Coup mentioned above, the HEAT had one of the best offensive nights in franchise history and put up some video game-like numbers. Leading the charge for Miami was none other than Wayne Ellington, who tied a career high with 28 points and hit a career-high eight treys on the night.

It wasn’t just him though, as Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson hit mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper throughout the contest. A big reason why those guys were able to find success from the perimeter was due to Bam Adebayo. In fact, the rookie led the team with nine screen assists, which is pretty crazy. In addition to that, the 20-year-old showed improved touch around the rim on a handful of nifty finishes.

All in all, it was quite remarkable how the HEAT responded to adversity yet again after Dion Waiters exited the game in the first quarter. Waiters had a nice aggressive start, but he sprained his left ankle late in the period. In his stead, Derrick Walton Jr. showed some impressive court vision and dished out a career-high five assists to go along with a career-high seven points.

2: How are the Pelicans different this year and how has their season gone so far?

Couper: The Pelicans’ big move came during last season when they acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings, pairing him with Anthony Davis to create what might be the best frontcourt in the entire league. They also added Rajon Rondo and Jameer Nelson to split minutes at point guard.

A season later, with a full training camp to put the pieces together, the Pelicans have vaulted from the No. 26 offense in the league to the No. 8 offense (107.8 points per 100). They’re in the bottom third of the league defensively but allow just 103.0 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor, which would be one of the better marks in the league. They’re hanging on to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

Joe: The Pelicans aren’t that different since they acquired DeMarcus Cousins near the trade deadline last year, but they added a few rotation guys, namely Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Ian Clark.

Of that trio, Rondo has predictably made the biggest impact thus far. The 31-year-old vet leads New Orleans with 7.6 assists per game and recently recorded a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists against the Rockets on Dec. 11.

Overall, the Pelicans have been up and down of late, as they’ve gone 5-5 over their last 10. That said, Cousins and Anthony Davis will likely be the best offensive frontcourt Miami will see all season. 

3: With this being the odd home back-to-back, how are the HEAT going to have to adjust going from playing Dallas to New Orleans?

Couper: It might seem like a drastic change to go from a team in Dallas that takes a ton of threes to a Pelicans team with such a talented frontcourt, but this is the modern NBA and Cousins is actually leading the team in three-point attempts, taking 6.4 per game. Both Davis and Cousins are incredibly dynamic, however, capable of scoring from any spot on the floor, so Miami will have much more to contend with than the pick-and-roll-or-pop game that the Mavericks generally stick to.

But here’s where the big men make New Orleans so different. They’re great, of course, but their presence on the floor comes with significant gravity, constantly drawing extra help to the ball. As such, the Pelicans have the second-best shot quality in the league, with an expected effective field-goal percentage of 53.6, trailing only the Houston Rockets. New Orleans might be a little depleted on the wing, especially with Solomon Hill out, but this team has great talent and attempts to maximize that talent with a system that creates great shots.

In other words, this will be a great test for Miami. And as great as Friday night was, they won’t be able to count on having back-to-back historically good shooting nights.

Joe: Dallas and New Orleans couldn’t be any more different in terms of their personnel. The Mavericks’ bigs consist of some young players and a proven vet in Dirk Nowitzki who primarily operates from the perimeter. With the Pelicans, you have two extremely skilled guys in Davis and Cousins who can do it all offensively.  

As such, the HEAT will need to put together one of their best defensive games of the season. While you’d obviously love to have Hassan Whiteside healthy for this one, the good thing is Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Mickey can all move their feet quite well on the perimeter. In particular, Adebayo and Mickey have guarded talented wings on a handful of occasions over the past few games.

It’ll certainly be tough for Miami, but the team has defied the odds time and time again this season. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

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Highlights:

March 15 – Pelicans at HEAT

Dec. 23 – HEAT at Pelicans

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won six of eight and are 17-15 on the year.
  • The Pelicans have gone 5-5 over their last 10 and enter the contest at 16-16.
  • Wayne Ellington is shooting 43.1 percent from deep this season.
  • DeMarcus Cousins leads New Orleans in points (26.2), rebounds (12.2) and steals (1.5) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 102.9 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.3 (12)
  • Pelicans Offense: 107.8 (8)
  • Pelicans Defense: 107.5 (24)