The New Orleans Pelicans came into tonight with just nine healthy players; three of whom are ground bound centers incapable of logging many minutes together. On the other sideline the Miami Heat are rounding into playoff form while Chris Bosh recovers from another blood clot scare. Ten actual NBA players deserving rotation minutes against a rag-tag bunch went about as expected for long stretches of the game.
Rather than walk through the game blow-by-blow let's jump right to some discussion on those ten rotation players the Heat trotted out tonight. Justise Winslow (the 10th pick last year) and Josh Richardson (40th overall) logged significant minutes in a "3&D" role; one the Pelicans have a near continuous vacancy. Even a team, such as the Heat, who can count on being in play for every single free agent of significance is benefiting greatly from a sprinkling of youth on their roster. Tyler Johnson, a third young guy for the Heat, is out for the remainder of the season with a torn rotator cuff. The three wings count for just $3.8 million against the salary cap this season, combined.
None of this is to say the Pelicans were devoid of bright spots. Luke Babbitt, who continues to grow out his hair after the tragic decision to cut it during the off season, had a game. Coming into tonight his career high was 24 points. He had 15 points at halftime and was scoring in a variety of ways; 3-point jumpers, layups, and even a hook shot over Hassan Whiteside. On the night Babbitt had 23 points while shooting 10-19 from the field and 2-2 behind the arc.
Omer Asik continued to show some spunk around the basket and in the pick and roll. Involving the big man in ball screens has turned him into a functional piece of the offense rather than trying to have him stand at the 3-point line. He scored 8 points and had 9 rebounds in 20 minutes of work.
Despite an ice cold shooting night Jrue Holiday finished with a respectable 24 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 teals against just 1 turnover. Efficiency is going to be hard to come by when Luke Babbitt is the greatest alternative threat on offense. Tim Frazier continued his streak of double-digit scoring performances with 11 points and 4 assists.
But wait! As the third quarter wound down the Pelicans once again put together an improbable run against a superior opponent. Playing Kendrick Perkins and Alexis Ajinca beside each other while running a 2-3 zone (seriously, this is a thing that happened in an NBA game) New Orleans trimmed the deficit to just 13 points. After the Heat pushed their lead back to 18 the Pelicans answered with an absurd 13-0 run with Jrue Holiday scoring or assisting on 11. A five point game with six minutes to go? That's a win with who the Pelicans had available.
Hassan Whiteside wasn't having it and feasted on Kendrick Perkins in crunch time, scoring nine points down the stretch against minimal resistance. Why Perkins, who did not play particularly well, was logging minutes ahead of the improved Omer Asik is beyond my understanding.
At some point it needs to be addressed that Kendrick Perkins is getting more minutes than Omer Asik.— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) March 23, 2016
New Orleans will travel to play the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night. Just 12 games remain this season and every loss will count.