Heat Check

Grit, toughness not always enough for shorthanded Heat. But it sends a message

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 109-94 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night:

1. The Heat’s run of good shooting came to an end and they finally looked like the injured team they are. Let’s face it, the Heat’s win in Boston Wednesday and even Friday’s over the Mavericks at home was the product of overachievement. Saturday, they got beat a better, healthier team in New Orleans and came crashing back to earth after shooting 64 percent in Friday’s win over Dallas.

Only Tyler Johnson stayed hot for Miami, scoring 20 points on 9 of 17 shooting while Josh Richardson (5 of 14, 12 points) and Wayne Ellington (4 of 12, 13 points) had tougher nights. Kelly Olynyk, who had 32 points against his former team Wednesday, was plagued by foul trouble, scoring 10 points in only 26 minutes of work.

“I still think there’s some really good things going going on with our team, despite the injuries, despite some of the adversity we’re going through,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I like the direction we’re going. We’ll just have to gather ourselves, get some rest, hopefully get some healthy bodies back for the Orlando game. And if we don’t, we have enough.”

0167 Heat vs Pelican 122317
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic shoots under the basket in the first quarter as the Miami Heat host the New Orleans Pelicanson Saturday, December 23, 2017 AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

2. Credit captains Goran Dragic and James Johnson for coming back and playing even though it’s clear neither is close to 100 percent. Dragic scored 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting in 30 minutes after missing three games with a strained ligament in his left elbow. Johnson had seven points in eight minutes, nine seconds worth of work in the first half before he aggravated his right ankle, which had held him out for three games, and Spoelstra immediately sent him back to the locker room for treatment.

“I thought it was good for him just to get out there and get some rhythm and, again, he didn’t have to,” Spoelstra said. “He just really wanted to be out there for the guys. I think even that if we would have played better, I still think New Orleans was on top of their game tonight. It might have been just one of those nights.

“But the guys were really grateful for Goran. It just shows you what kind of warrior he is and the respect that he has in the locker room. Yeah, he felt it a few times, because he’s so aggressive. You can’t go out there and say, ‘Well, I'm going to protect my elbow,’ and then all of a sudden he's Tazmanian Devil on those drives. There’s going to be collisions, guys are swiping at him. But he made it through it and I think the couple of days off will be good for him as well.”

Ellington said he thanked both Johnson and Dragic for playing through some pain.

“They wanted to be there for the team tonight,” Ellington said. “They sacrificed. That’s huge for us. Obviously they’re not themselves yet. Them just giving that effort to come out there means everything for us.”

Now, Spoelstra said, the Heat will wait in see how bad Johnson’s ankle is.

3. The pain is still very much there for Dragic. Asked on Wednesday in Boston how his elbow felt, Dragic described the pain as “a five or a six” on a scale from 1 to 10. He said it was the same after Saturday’s loss.

“I never want to make excuses,” Dragic said. “I was out there and tried to do my best. We had a bad game. The first half, they were getting open looks, but we were right there, down three points. The second half was too much. They were making every shot. Our defense was not there. Then we didn't play well on offense. It was kind of a perfect storm for them. We just have to go onto the next one.”

Would Dragic have played if the team wasn’t so short-handed?

“It’s tough to say. You never know,” he said. “I talked to the doc and the pain is there. It is what it is. It's not the first time I’m playing through the pain. I’m going to try to be there for my teammates and try to do what I can and that’s it – end of story. Try to do treatments and be professional.”

4. Bam Adebayo had some nice moments against fellow Kentucky products Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins both on offense and defense.

“I feel like I could have done better on certain stuff, but you take away from it,” Adebayo said of his performance which included nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot in 30 minutes of work. “Information is in the head and you just move on.”

Said Spoelstra: “He’s a computer. So every single game he’s putting it, every experience, into that computer and he’s learning at such a rapid pace, but that’s the toughest matchup you'll face, against those two guys, because of the skill set, because of their ability to also draw fouls. He had a couple of really good possessions where he was able to defend, keep them in front of him without fouling. And he did some good things on the other end, as well. But how can we not be encouraged by what we're seeing with Bam.”

5. The Pelicans made 15 of their 25 three-point attempts. It’s the second-most threes the Heat has given up in a game this season. The other game? The 17 threes Dallas hit on Friday.

Is this a trend for the Heat’s defense?

“They’re a very good three-point shooting team, but a lot of those shots just don't materialize by themselves if you don't have a couple of studs that are drawing the defense,” Spoelstra said. “And obviously they present a lot of different challenges, two 7-foot players that don’t play like traditional 7-foot players. So they have a skill out by the three-point line. They both can put the ball on the floor, they both can post up, they both can play pick-and-roll basketball. And let's not also understand, forget about Jrue Holiday. He also creates a lot of things on his pick-and-rolls. In my mind, he’s one of the most underrated players in the league.”

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