There are two “good” kinds of back-to-backs I can think of in the NBA. The first is a "flush it" game. Getting right back at the grind after a particularly horrid performance instead of allowing that one bad game linger. The second is a momentum builder, which the New Orleans Pelicans face tonight. Fresh off a blow out win where no players logged substantial minutes they will try to keep the good times rolling against the Miami Heat.
No Pelican is likely more eager to keep playing than starting small forward Solomon Hill. After an abominable start out of the break Hill is on a personal tear with back-to-back games in double figures. In the first eight games after the DeMarcus Cousins trade Hill scored 27 total points while shooting 5-29 behind the arc. In his last two outings Hill has 28 points on 4-8 shooting from deep. Solomon Hill has yet to score in double figures in three straight games this season and he's surely hoping to keep building on two solid performances.
Defensively is where the Pelicans are buttering their bread this season and last night against the Portland Trail Blazers was no exception. Portland posted a season low 77 points while shooting a putrid 30% from the floor. Not all of that is due to New Orleans but the job Darren Erman has done turning this team into a top ten defense while integrating Cousins is commendable. If the shots keep falling on the other end the Pelicans should be in almost every game down the stretch.
Speaking of excellent coaching, Erik Spoelstra is in the running for coach of the year thanks to the incredible turnaround for the Heat. After Justise Winslow was sidelined due to injury Spoelstra has resorted to starting Luke Babbitt 45 (!) games this season and the Heat are 25-20 when Babbitt starts. Their preferred starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Rodney McGruder, Dion Waiters, Babbitt, and Hassan Whiteside is 18-5.
There is little way to explain why the Heat are 22-14 since Christmas Day with the league's 7th best net rating than to acknowledge the impact of elite NBA coaching. Spoelstra hangs out with Rick Carlisle in the "just below Gregg Popovich" tier in the current NBA coaching fraternity and this season's effort rivals anything Coach Spo did with the "Big Three" and LeBron James. The Pelicans talked about being blue collar desperate, the Miami Heat actual embody that ethos.
What to watch for
Let Anthony Davis cook: Luke Babbitt is the starting power forward for the Heat. Really. That's a thing. There is no way the Pelicans can allow that matchup to go unexploited. Expect James Johnson to get the lion's share of the defensive assignment and New Orleans must find ways to take advantage of AD's size advantage beyond just going small.
Luke Babbitt is Miami's starting power forward. Anthony Davis hopping on this flight like... pic.twitter.com/g4QBjlqyNk— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) March 15, 2017
Closing Waiters Island: Miami is going to rely on gumption, Goran Dragic playing with one eye (image NSFW, you have been warned), Hassan Whiteside dominating Cousins (good luck), and Dion Waiters. Jrue Holiday should be up to the task.
Role players keep stepping up: Solomon Hill isn’t the only role player putting on a show in the last two games. Dante Cunningham (20 points on 9-11 shooting) and Jordan Crawford (32 points on 12-23 shooting) are also getting the job done since Saturday. E’Twaun Moore has been the most consistent Pelicans since the All-Star Game behind his 43.5% shooting from deep. If those three can put forward reasonable performances and the Pelicans Big Three show up as expected a three game winning streak could be on the horizon.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
When: 6:30 PM Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, 99.5 FM WRNO