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NBA Preseason Preview: Short-handed New Orleans Pelicans to battle Miami Heat

Three key starters will sit, but this presents opportunities for others to shine.

NBA: Miami Heat at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Time feels of the essence for the New Orleans Pelicans as the days to the start of the regular season swiftly approach. Every minute there’s a new Anthony Davis rumor, but almost every third day there’s been an exhibition game to be played.

For some, each game game brings auditions for unsettled roles and final roster spots. For others, the preseason simply provides players with a chance to build rhythm, consistency, and chemistry. Exhibition or not, every one of those elements can draw big returns down the line as teams are running out of time to prepare for regular season action.

We all know that preseason numbers are limitless in perspective to their overall impact once the games count for real. Intensity is inconsistent, and indifferent defense follows suit as players would much rather save their energy (and good health) for when their respective teams need them the most.

Nonetheless, there are some takeaways that can be firmly gripped onto. Diagnosing a player’s comfort level early in a system and the acclimation of new players are a few notables. The return of others from injury and the importance of court communication and reestablished trust also can be captured.

Clarity on this subject is important of course because the box score watchers are around to mislead many. The basketball starved highlight patrol are present to overrate whatever aspect they can.

For the Pelicans so far, members of both groups would probably pull in mixed results. There should be continued praise of Anthony Davis and preseason scarf Jrue Holiday. Excitement should arise from watching Julius Randle and Frank Jackson in their official debuts for blue and gold. Niko Mirotic, Troy Williams, Darius Miller, and E’Twuan Moore have also posted a few good performances to feel good about. Offensively, the pace has been fantastic, and defensively, the Pelicans have shown flash when rotating and switching as a unit — but they have to continue to improve.

On the other side, disappointment staggers as a couple of projected essential names such as Solomon Hill and Chieck Diallo have struggled to show where they belong roster wise come next week. To counter NOLA’s good pace have been turnovers and sometimes clumsy play. When the Pelicans were most dangerous last season, they took decent care of the ball. They also hope to take care of their early annual injury bug as Jackson, Randle, Mirotic, Jahlil Okafor, and Miller have all battled injuries during the preseason.

All in all, the Pelicans have fought, and at their packed open practice this past Sunday, one sensed the team is happy and on track to be that finished product. The preseason record currently reads 0-3 however, so a win would do fans’ hearts well.

Playing host to New Orleans will be the always engaging Miami Heat on Wednesday evening, who are batting injuries, rumors, and possible roster restructuring of their own. Before the two teams face-off later today, here are a few things to keep an eye out.

  • No Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, or E’Twuan Moore.
NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In a smart move, Alvin Gentry decided to give the trio the night off with the team on the front end of a back-to-back. Replacing them in the starting lineup will be Randle, Ian Clark, and Solomon Hill, who will be joined by Elfrid Payton and Mirotic. This lineup will give way to extended minutes for a plethora of players behind them to solidify their roles and possibly stay long-term in New Orleans. Look to see how they take advantage as there’s only one preseason game remaining for the Pelicans after Wednesday’s matchup.

  • Mirotic and Randle are projected to start together.
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Gentry has been beyond honest about soon wanting to experiment with a lineup featuring Anthony Davis, Niko Mirotic and Julius Randle together. Due to injury thus far, we’ve only been able to see Davis and either Mirotic or Randle together separately. Wednesday brings an opportunity for us to see them side by side. It will be interesting how the two skilled bigs function together.

  • Elfrid Payton needs more time.
NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The word, in its many spellings of “Payton,” goes really well with the city of New Orleans. But similar to Rome, Payton’s aren’t built in one day. So far all of Elfrid Payton’s talent has been on display; his playmaking, rebounding, and defense have provided him some high points three games in. Yet he has had some predicted three-point and free-throw line struggles along with finding the right balance between running the offense and maintaining his own aggressiveness. Overall, he appears to just need more time to figure out how best to get his guys involved and look for his own shot.

Those are things that should eventually come for Payton and there’s hope they could come sooner than later. That would be great news for the Pelicans as NOLA is going to need him in a big way.

  • Put up or step out time for Chieck Diallo.

How can you not love Diallo? The smile, energy, and celebrations are all welcome for another season. But to carve any kind of role for himself this season, he’s going to have to perform better than he’s shown thus far. Diallo is currently shooting well under 40 percent from the field and is more drawn to the three-point line than battling inside the paint. His defense has been poor to go with stagnant off the ball movement.

I know those are only two games, but when you consider a mixed summer league performance combined with a tough open practice designed to partly relax the players, things aren’t looking so good for Diallo. But remember that he’s a fighter so there’s hope that a few baskets or good plays can help him earn some of the confidence that uniquely dripped off of him upon first arriving in New Orleans. With Jahlil Okafor waiting in the wings, Diallo could soon find himself on thin ice. Let’s just hope that a few Wakanda signs can change that.

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat

Where: American Airlines Arena

When: Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 6:30 p.m. Central

How: Pelicans App, 99.5 FM WRNO