Five takeaways from the Heat’s 106-101 Friday night victory against the New Orleans Pelicans that snapped a six-game home losing streak:
▪ The Heat, whose defense had been well below the franchise’s standards most of the season, held the NBA’s second-highest scoring team well below its usual output.
New Orleans entered averaging 118.5 points per game, second in the league behind only Milwaukee. What’s more, the Pelicans had scored under 100 only once all season, in a 109-95 loss to the Spurs.
But the Pelicans were held nearly 18 points below that, with Miami limiting the Pelicans to 17 in the first quarter, 24 in the second and 26 in the fourth. New Orleans scored 34 in the third because of the brilliance of Anthony Davis, who scored 19 of his 41 in that quarter.
So what changed Friday?
The Heat (8-13) was better in transition defense, committed fewer turnovers than normal (13), slowed the pace at times (especially late) and contested shots better than some recent games. And New Orleans missed some threes early that they often hit in falling behind 48-19.
After the Pelicans sliced a 31-point deficit to three, the Heat never allowed New Orleans to surge ahead.
“We got back better in transition,” Dwyane Wade said. “We talked about slowing it up last couple minutes, play an old man game, keep the turnovers down.”
It helped that New Orleans opened 0 for 11 on threes in falling behind 54-23 and closed 6 for 28 on threes (21.4 percent).
Miami entered permitting 110.5 points per game, 15th in the league, and allowing teams to shoot 44.7 percent, which is ninth best. The Heat’s defense has suffered in this new-age NBA, where scoring and pace are up.
The Pelicans shot just 39 percent in the first half, falling behind by as many as 31 and trailing 61-41 at the half and closed at 42.7 percent from the field.
“We took care of the ball better,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had better game management in the course of the game, when we had an opportunity to extend the lead and slow it down without pulling the air out of the ball. Defensively, protecting the paint and the rim in our house against a team that does it as well as anybody. They’re incredible at attacking the paint. I commended the guys the last three days. The approach was just trying to get better.”
While the Heat still has an ugly record overall (8-13), Miami has looked like a playoff team against Western Conference playoff teams from a year ago. Miami is now 3-0 in those home games, with wins against Portland, San Antonio and New Orleans.
▪ Hassan Whiteside battled Davis to a draw in the first half, and then Davis erupted against Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and others for much of the second half.
In a battle of bigs earning the exact same salary this season ($24.34 million), Davis overwhelmed Whiteside during the six minutes Whiteside played in the second half before departing for good.
Davis outscored Whiteside 19-2 in the third quarter, those 19 points matching LeBron James for most points scored in a quarter against the Heat this season. Whiteside didn’t play in the fourth, with Davis scoring nine in the fourth against Adebayo, who made him work and had some good moments of his own.
Davis, who will be a Heat target in 2020 free agency, entered averaging 27 points per game and topped that by 14, closing with nine rebounds, two assists and four blocks.
Whiteside – who had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks – was every bit as good as Davis in the first half, with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, while Davis had 13 points, no rebounds and a block.
But everything changed after halftime.
Incidentally, Whiteside’s free throw funk is worsening. He airballed his first free throw and also missed his second, making him 3 for his last 18 on free throws.
▪ The Heat’s depleted bench did some of its best work of the season. And this is the way it must be for this team to win.
Down to only 10 players because of injuries, Miami got excellent work off the bench from Kelly Olynyk, Wade and Adebayo and a helpful contribution from Justise Winslow. Udonis Haslem was the only available Heat player who didn’t get in the game.
The Heat’s starting lineup isn’t particularly potent with Goran Dragic injured, and so it’s essential for the Heat bench to clearly outperform its counterparts.
Miami had a lopsided advantage Friday, with Heat reserves outscoring Pelicans reserves, 49-12.
Olynyk was splendid, scoring eight key fourth quarter points, including two threes, on a 13-point, seven-rebound night. He also had terrific pass to Adebayo for a layup.
Wade was again very good, with 18 points, five rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes. He and Davis exchanged embraces and jerseys after the game, as Wade continued his season-long tradition of exchanging jerseys with previously determined opposing players.
“Tonight he was just dissecting everything playing at an appropriate pace,” Spoelstra said, crediting Wade for helping the team play “with more pace, more poise, learning to play at a slower tempo.”
Adebayo continued an excellent stretch, with eight points, 11 rebounds and a block in 27 minutes – seven minutes more than Whiteside.
“Bam gave us a big boost in the second quarter,” Spoelstra said. “In the fourth quarter, he was a rock of stability on both ends – anchoring the defense and protecting the rim. Before Dwyane came back in, we were running a decent amount of our offense through Bam. That shows you how far he’s come in a year and a half.”
And Winslow, despite struggling with his shot (3 for 11), chipped in 10 points and three rebounds.
One member of that bench, Derrick Jones Jr., missed the game with a hamstring injury and said even though he’s not in too much pain, he’s not yet sure if it will be a short-term injury. He said the team wasn’t planning to take an MRI. “It’s a strain.”
▪ After missing an open-three at the buzzer of a two-point loss to Atlanta, Josh Richardson didn’t shirk from the late-game burden.
Richardson, who hadn’t made a field goal since the second quarter, seized on an Adebayo screen on Julius Randle and drove to his left for a nifty layup to the put the Heat ahead 105-100 with 26 seconds left.
Richardson (20 points) had only three points in the second half and missed all seven of his second half field goal attempts before that layup late. He said he appreciated teammates having confidence in him to take that shot.
“I asked him to ask Dwyane how many game deciding shots he’s missed,” Spoelstra said. “There was zero chance he would have any idea. He had that big bucket going down the stretch. We needed that for relief.”
▪ The Heat made a fashion statement of sorts on two very different fronts.
Shortly before the game, Heat officials decided to ditch the Vice jerseys – Miami was 0-6 when wearing those snazzy outfits –and wore red instead. The AmericanAirlines Arena court kept the Vice design.
“We’ve done this before; it’s just to change the dynamic,” Spoelstra said. “We love the vice campaign. Our players love it. Our staff loves it. This had nothing to do with anything other than that.”
Said Wade of the last-minute jersey switch: “I don’t care. You have to take [those questions] up to the higher ups.”
And on a more serious fashion note, Spoelstra and his assistant coaches wore colorful jackets in spirit with a TNT and ESPN campaign to raise money for cancer research, with TNT announcers this week wearing flashy jackets to honor Craig Sager, the sideline reporter known for his colorful wardrobe who died of cancer in December 2016.
Spoelstra said he also wore a blue and white plaid blazer to honor Hall of Fame coach and former Heat TV announcer Jack Ramsay, who died in April 14.
“This was something we definitely wanted to do because of our friendships with Craig,” Spoelstra said. “I also wanted to honor coach Ramsay. I wanted to do it last year. I got to know Craig as a scout 20 years ago. This awful thing we know as cancer - this was to bring more light to it, to raise more money.”