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Game Preview: Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans

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The Pelicans have won three in a row. Can they make it four on ESPN?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

My thoughts on the New Orleans Pelicans are scattered at the moment, but that won’t stop me from writing this preview. The Pelicans enter tonight’s affair against Miami with a three-game winning streak and trail Oklahoma City by just one and a half games for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. I’m liking the basketball I’m seeing out there, too. Again, I would like the basketball gods to bless New Orleans with a #fullsquad, but they’ll play with the cards they were dealt.

These fighting Pelicans, man. No Anthony Davis, no Ryan Anderson, no Jrue Holiday, and they continue to fight. I have qualms about Tyreke Evans, but he’s leading the charge and doing it well. Omer Asik is holding up New Orleans’ defense and the cast of Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole, Dante Cunningham and Eric Gordon are doing their best, keeping them in the fight while their starters charge up for the stretch run. Keeping the deficit between one and two games gives New Orleans a chance to leapfrog Oklahoma City at the end, and that’s all that matters.

Let’s talk about the Miami Heat. The SB Nation blog, Hot Hot Hoops, wrote a preview as well. Check it out here: Hot Hot Hoops

Stats of Note

The Heat sit square in the middle, even after the Goran Dragic trade. The Heat are 18th in the league in offensive efficiency. The offensive drop has to do with the departure of LeBron James, but before the injury, Chris Bosh was so-so, Dwyane Wade was in and out of the lineup, and the Heat had the worst combination of point guards (Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, rookie Shabazz Napier) in the league.

Defensively, the Heat sat at 19th overall in the league. Personally, I think Miami is a bit better than that. Chalmers is a decent defensive player, Deng is a once overrated, now underrated defender and of course, the combination of Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. Bosh was great in space defensively before the injury and Whiteside has provided the Heat was an excellent rim protector, allowing just 45.2% at the rim (NBA.com’s stats page) and second in the league in points saved per 36 per Nylon Calculus.

From merely a fan standpoint, the Heat are both interesting and boring. The infusion of Goran Dragic to the roster gives them a floor general and top five guard in the league, but the loss of Chris Bosh (Get well soon, Big Shot Bosh) dampens the impact. Hassan Whiteside is awesome, Loul Deng is awesome, but the bench is lackluster. Dwyane Wade, when healthy, is one of the top 25 players in the league. Without a lottery pick this season (The Heat owe their pick, top 10 protected, to Philadelphia), there’s no reason for them to just fall out of the playoffs either.

Along with the on-court situation, I’m fascinated by the future of the Heat. I’m of the mind that the Heat will convince Goran Dragic to take a bit less of five-year, $100 million dollars on the table this offseason, but the Heat have to pay Dragic this year, Whiteside next season and they’ll still have Bosh on a max contract. I imagine the Heat will be in the race for Durant in two seasons, but if they fail to get him, Miami could be paying a good chunk of money to Whiteside, Dragic, and Bosh. Where that gets you? I have no clue.

Keys to Victory

Slow down Dragic: Two parts here. Slow down Goran Dragic on the offensive end. Throw both Pondexter and Cole on him, in an attempt to disrupt him. However, the Pelicans will also need to stop him from running as well. In his arrival to Miami, the Heat have begun to push the pace. Getting Dragic to slow down a bit would be a solid victory for New Orleans.

Force the Three Ball: The Heat, like many of their stats, sit in the middle of three point shooting - 18th in the league at 34.5%. Miami have a few guys who can hit them, but in small abundance. Napier hits them at 36.8% from the field on 2.4 attempts per game, while Deng hits 38.8% on 2.8 attempts per game. New Orleans should look to stretch possessions and force bad shots.

Norris Cole Revenge Game: Please? I liked the addition of Cole at the deadline, as Demps continues to make something out of nothing. While he was a tad overrated in Miami, he’s a fine reserve for the Pelicans and offers them a better backup point guard than the Rivers/Jimmer/Wolters/Douglas package offered throughout the season. Any who, let’s get the Norris Cole revenge game.

This is a winnable game. I believe the Pelicans have the talent to get this one here, but I'm also very cautious of Dragic. Go Pels!

Who: Miami Heat vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Where: The Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA.

When: 8:00 p.m. est / 7:00 p.m. cst

How To Watch: ESPN or Watch ESPN