After putting together what felt like a bit of a Christmas miracle in a win at Boston and then shooting the lights out to survive the early loss of Dion Waiters in a win over Dallas, the banged up Heat finally played like a team missing quite a few key parts Saturday night.
Despite getting point guard Goran Dragic back in the lineup – and forward James Johnson for all of eight minutes and nine seconds worth of work in the first half before his ailing right ankle flared up on him – Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans put it to the Heat with a 109-94 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“It wasn't for a lack of our guys wanting or even putting the effort,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It just wasn’t one of [our] better nights. And you have to credit New Orleans for that. I actually felt pretty good when it was 68-64. I thought if we could slow the tempo down a little bit, play this game a little bit more in the mud, that we’d give ourselves a chance there at the end.
“And then they went on an 11-0 run, just like that, three threes and Rondo’s layup and they never looked back. So, we’ll move on.”
New Orleans (17-16) shot 53.4 percent from the field, made 15 of its 25 three-point attempts and pulled away from the Heat (17-16) in the third quarter. Tyler Johnson led the Heat with 20 points on 9 of 17 shooting, but the rest of Miami’s rotation struggled to score.
Dragic finished with 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting and two assists in 30 minutes. Josh Richardson, who has had a terrific month shooting the ball while also leading the Heat in scoring, had 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting in 37 minutes. And Wayne Ellington, who had a career-high 28 points and eight three-pointers in Friday’s win over Dallas, finished 4 of 12 from the field and 3 of 10 from beyond the arc for 13 points in 35 minutes.
The Pelicans blocked 10 shots with Davis and Cousins combining for seven of them. Davis finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three assists. Cousins had 16 points, seven rebounds and eight asssists in 28 minutes.
New Orleans led 56-53 at the half and outscored Miami 27-16 in the third quarter with Tyler Johnson scoring 12 of those points for the Heat. After Johnson hit a jumper with 6:09 to play to trim the Pelicans’ lead to 68-64, New Orleans went on a 13-0 run before Johnson hit a corner three-pointer with 2:59 remaining to end the run.
The Pelicans eventually stretched the lead to as many as 24 points in the final quarter.
“They’re a long athletic team. They’re good, man,” Ellington said. “They’ve got some really good players over there. It seems like they’re clicking right now and jelling. They made some tough shots, unfortunately we didn’t. the ball wasn’t dropping the way we wanted it to. But it’s not an excuse for us. We’re a team that wants to get it done on the defensive end of the floor and we came up short tonight.”
The disappointment for the Heat was it got James Johnson back, but only for a short amount of time.
Johnson scored seven points including a fadeway three-pointer as the clock expired at the end of the first quarter to put Miami ahead 28-27. He then put the Heat ahead 38-35 with 7:44 to go in the first half on a pullup jumper before going to the bench moments later. He never returned and spent the second half in the Heat’s locker room receiving treatment on his ankle according to the team.
“As soon as he went on that drive and jumped off his right foot and he started limping, it was like [snaps fingers], I got him out and I wasn’t even thinking about putting him back in,” Spoelstra said. “So he aggravated it. We’ll find out how badly it was, but we’re all on the same page about it. And thankfully we’ll have a couple of days just to get some treatment and rest and we’ll go from there.”
The Heat will take off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day before hosting the Magic Tuesday night. Orlando (11-23) lost center Nikola Vucevic to a broken bone in his left hand Saturday and he will be out at least six to eight weeks.