New Orleans lost to the current three-seed in the Eastern Conference after digging themselves into a double-digit point hole in the first quarter. A deficit that New Orleans would never be able to overcome despite making the game interesting in the fourth quarter. A 13-0 New Orleans run cut Miami's lead to five in the final frame, but Hassan Whiteside and Dwyane Wade's combined 15 points in the final six minutes were able to slam the door on the Pelicans.
Defense has been Miami's calling card this season and it once again proved to be the catalyst for their win tonight. Miami entered tonight's game sixth in defensive rating and fourth in points allowed and held New Orleans 39 percent shooting from the floor.
For New Orleans, the game was essentially lost in the first quarter. After being tied at 20 with a little over four minutes remaining in the frame, Miami took advantage of a 15-1 run and seven missed shots by the Pelicans to go up 35-21. What's most troubling is that Miami built that lead with their second unit on the floor. Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson did most of the heavy lifting to close the first.
Wade led all players with 25 points tonight and Whiteside was right behind him with 24. Goran Dragic pitched in 21 and Amar'e Stoudemire collected 16 points, 9 rebounds and a pair of blocks in just 15 minutes of action.
Nothing about this loss could be considered surprising for New Orleans. As mentioned, Miami has the third-best record in the East and are a top-10 defensive team in just about every major statistic. Add that to New Orleans only having nine players available, two or three of whom you'd consider as players New Orleans would ideally like to have out there every single night, and the result is a double digit loss on your home court. It didn't matter that Luke Babbitt turned in a season high 23 points or that Jrue Holiday one-upped him with 24, New Orleans just doesn't have the players to beat average teams let alone ones that might be poised for deep playoff runs.
Every single Pelican player had a negative plus/minus number. That's both inexplicable and makes as much sense as anything else in the world. Luke Babbitt's 23 points is mitigated by his -12 plus/minus; the same goes for Jrue Holiday's 24 and -17. When your top two scorers are also causing their team to be outscored by a combined 29 points, something's wrong.
What's wrong is that the Pelicans are one of the most injury-ravaged teams in the league and they're not getting any healthier as the season winds down. But I suppose on a night like tonight, the guys did as much as we could hope from a team that has Alonzo Gee, Tim Frazier and Kendrick Perkins all getting more than 25 minutes of action: play hard, show some of that "scrappiness" that's code for "bad but bless their hearts for trying" and lose so you improve your lottery chances.
Twelve games to go.