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Miami HEAT at New Orleans Pelicans Game Preview

The Miami HEAT face the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night at Smoothie King Center. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How were the HEAT able to pull off the shorthanded win in Memphis?

Couper Moorhead: This was as straightforward a victory as Miami has had all season. Shorthanded for the evening, Miami outscored Memphis from the three-point line 45-24 – no small thing in a three-point game. Just about whenever recently-signed Joakim Noah was in the game, particularly during an early stretch when both Noah and Marc Gasol were on the floor, the HEAT went back to their zone, which played into the Grizzlies shooting struggles this night. And despite not shooting very well inside the arc Miami mitigated that issue by managing 14 offensive rebounds. Derrick Jones Jr. deserves mention for his energetic performance that kept him on the court right up to the end, but this was a typical, formulaic win for this group. Play defense, make hustle plays and shoot better from three than the other team. More often than not, that’s a win.

Joe Beguiristain: It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the HEAT got the job done on both ends of the floor.

With one of the best defenses in the league on the other side, Miami kept the ball moving and relied on a balanced attack to keep Memphis on its heels for most of the night. In fact, the HEAT totaled 30 assists on 36 made field goals, which were just two shy of their season-high 32 dimes against the Suns earlier on this trip. Thanks to that impeccable ball movement, Miami hit 15 treys and five guys scored in double-figures. And while Josh Richardson did his thing with 18 points and a team-high seven assists, Derrick Jones Jr. continued to make his presence felt. In addition to scoring 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting (including nine in the fourth quarter), Jones Jr. also wreaked havoc on the defensive end both in zone and in man-to-man against Mike Conley. As such, the 21-year-old led the team with a 93.6 defensive rating (minimum of 20 minutes played).

All told, the HEAT held the Grizzlies to just 42.2 percent shooting, including a paltry 33.3 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.

That’s big-time.

Anthony Davis2: What did we learn about this matchup when Miami beat New Orleans a couple weeks ago?

Couper: The HEAT got off to a hot start when these teams met back in Miami, winning the first quarter 37-17, and New Orleans spent the rest of the game making their way back behind 41 points from Anthony Davis to the point that they had the opportunity to tie the game in the final minute on an open Nikola Mirotić three. Ultimately it wasn’t all that dissimilar from Friday’s win, as the Pelicans suffered their worst shooting game of the season going 6-of-28 from three and the HEAT collected another 13 rebounds as their bench, per usual, outscored the opponent bench. Anthony Davis was a handful no matter who was defending him and both Mirotić and Jrue Holiday had offensive nights below their standards, but if the HEAT can hold Julius Randle – the engine that drives New Orleans’ bench – to something similar to a 2-of-6, four turnover showing, then they should be in solid shape.

Joe: That Anthony Davis guy is pretty good.

Seriously though, we learned that the Pelicans are a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end. After falling behind by 31 points in the second quarter, New Orleans slowly but surely fought its way back and cut the deficit to three with 1:12 left to play. However, Richardson answered the call and hit a tough hook shot over Julius Randle shortly thereafter to seal the deal. Of course, J. Rich also made life miserable for Jrue Holiday and helped hold the 28-year-old to just 8-of-20 shooting from the field.

All that said, Miami’s previous win over New Orleans doesn’t guarantee anything. Davis, in particular, has been on an absolute tear of late, averaging 42.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.0 assists per game on 50 percent shooting over his past two outings. Keep in mind that those two performances came against elite defenses in Oklahoma City and Boston.

We’ll see how Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo fare against the MVP candidate on Sunday night.

3: What has your assessment been of Miami’s zone defense and do you expect they’ll use it Sunday night?

Couper: The HEAT are currently allowing 0.75 points per possession when they play zone defense, which would effectively be the best defense of all time if used all game, every game. Now of course that number wouldn’t stay so low if Miami was in zone all the time because Erik Spoelstra has done an exceptional job at choosing opportune moments to break out the different look, such as when the opponent doesn’t have a ton of shooting in the game. You’re always going to allow some sort of three-point look when you play zone, that’s simply inherent with the style of defense, but what’s to really like about Miami’s zone is just how active and energetic it is. With Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. flanking, the HEAT’s closeouts have been on point as teams struggle to find the usual zone seams with all that length around the edges of the paint. This is a zone with a purpose, not a zone of desperation.

That being said, zone defenses almost always get figured out given enough time. Teams begin preparing for it, they begin looking for it and making quicker adjustments with lineups in games, and they simply start hitting more shots. But Spoelstra has proven time and time again that he’ll stick with something as long as it works, and if the zone has only worked long enough to secure a couple extra wins for the HEAT, and nothing more, it will have been plenty worthwhile.

Joe: I think that Erik Spoelstra has done a great job of implementing the zone defense when the opposition doesn’t have a lot of shooting on the floor. After going to that look against the Clippers, which is a team that likes to get into the paint rather than shoot the three-ball, Coach Spo has used it at certain points ever since.

And although you can give up some open looks from downtown using the zone, it works as long as you’re closing out quickly. It also helps matters that both Bam Adebayo and Jones Jr. are tailor-made for the last line of defense down low.

As for Sunday night, I think the HEAT will use zone at times because, much like the Clippers and Grizzlies, the Pelicans don’t take very many 3-pointers and connect on just 34.8 percent of those looks. And with Nikola Mirotić and E’Twaun Moore’s status yet to be determined as of this writing, things could be even tougher for New Orleans from deep.

HEAT at Pelicans Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT defeated the Pelicans 106-101 in their last meeting on Nov. 30.
  • Miami is 12-16, while New Orleans is 15-15 on the year.
  • Hassan Whiteside leads the HEAT in rebounds (13.4) and blocks (2.9) per game.
  • Anthony Davis leads the Pelicans in points (28.1), rebounds (12.4) and blocks (2.8) per contest.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 105.5 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 106.5 (9)
  • Pelicans Offense: 112.6 (4)
  • Pelicans Defense: 111.1 (24)

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