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New Orleans Pelicans defense, effort and wit go missing in action against Miami Heat, lose 140-128

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Julius Randle and the rest of the team remain in search of their first preseason victory.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat beat the New Orleans Pelicans by a 140-128 score in American Airlines Arena on Wednesday night, leaving the Pels in the cellar of the NBA preseason rankings with a record of 0-4. Those 140 points were a Miami preseason franchise record.

But honestly, what are we supposed to learn from preseason basketball?

In my personal opinion, it’s mostly to serve as a warmup, get our new Pelicans used to playing with one another, and work on specifics before the regular season starts. You may imagine that they’re glorified practices, from the point of view of the coaches. But there’s still a game to play, and you’d hope to see the Pels make strides on the court that lead to wins.

It was easy to see that any game matters to the Heat. They were the ones up off the bench, excited as the clock ticked down at the end of the first half — hey, endless dunks and blocked shots are fun, for sure. It was they who made plays at the rim, stayed out of foul trouble (other than Julius Randle drawing fouls seemingly every other trip down), and held on to the ball until they finished slam dunks. It’s important to “work on stuff regardless of score,” but basketball is a competition. Tonight, the Pels barely registered on the competitiveness scale.

No, really: go check the Miami Heat Twitter account and find an array of highlight slam dunks. Or see Josh Richardson show (16 points in the first quarter, 25 for the game) why the Heat don’t want to trade him in a deal for Teammate And Front Office Embarrasser Jimmy Butler.

But on with the game.

The Pels trailed 36-26 after the first quarter, thanks to Richardson and four blocks and three steals from the Heat defense. New Orleans shot decent, but found themselves behind 12-3 early and were never able to recover.

By halftime, the Pels were down 14 points, despite shooting over 50 percent from the field. The defense gave up 74 points! Among other things, getting outscored 19-2 in second chance points will come back to haunt you if rebounding the basketball is an afterthought.

The Pelicans trailed by 20 most of the rest of the second half, until end-of-the-benchers made the game closer by trying to prove they belong on the roster. Troy Williams was the best of the bunch, scoring 14 points in nine minutes of action.

Our guys, both good and bad

Julius Randle had 23 points, six rebounds and four assists (with five turnovers), making his way to the free throw line 12 times. Randle looked great! He’s a skilled guy who knows how to use his body and shot three 3-pointers, where he was mostly left open. Maybe he’ll make an acceptable percentage from out there, maybe he won’t, but he’ll give value to this team with his playmaking and creativity off the dribble.

Nikola Mirotic had 19 points, making just 1 of 6 3-pointers, but he did make 6 of his 7 2-point attempts. Both he and Randle can get theirs in the paint. He’s also just “heady,” so he makes those off-ball plays and difficult defensive movements, too.

The Pelicans started Elfrid Payton (17 points, eight assists), Ian Clark (15 minutes, eight points), Solomon Hill (22 minutes, three shot attempts, three turnovers), Randle and Mirotic. Clark committed a plethora of mistakes early including a bad foul, a careless passing turnover and multiple failed defensive choices and/or efforts. He was pretty bad.

Darius Miller was good. The former German league baller turned 82-game-man for the Pels last year struggled in the playoffs, but it looks like he’s back for revenge. Miller made four 3-pointers in the first half and had 17 points overall, making 5 of 6 3-pointers for the game. Maybe it’s just me, but I swear Miller has a quicker release this year and improved ball-handling. Some kind of second unit with him and Mirotic and/or Randle could be very effective.

Payton, a starter who will gather a lot of criticism because of Rajon Rondo comparisons, may show creativity in passing skills and angles, but seemed to lack the timing and spacial awareness, which resulted in ill-timed passes that would cause offensive congestion, diversion or a straight up turnover. We’ll see what it’s like when he’s paired with studs AD and Jrue on a regular basis.

I’m sorry to say this, given my hopes and dreams for him as expressed on Twitter and with Trevor Ritchie in The Bird Writes podcast, but: Frank Jackson stinks — as in he’s not ready. Defensively, he might grade out as just below average (rookies do tend to foul quite a bit), but on offense, I hate what I see. Without the ball, I swear I can actually see him thinking as he determines where to go — and when — and takes bad shots when he gets it back. The guy I really want in this defense-first type of role is OKC’s Hamidou Diallo.

Speaking of Diallo, our Pels big man simply got put to bed early tonight. Bam Adebayo (26 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, 3 blocks) is a special and developing talent. He’s now dribbling with comfort, stays on the move, brings the pain on defense and can jump up and down for tip-ins with ease. As with J-Rich (25 points, 4-of-7 3-pointers), it’s easy to see why the Heat want to hang on to this guy in a potential Jimmy Butler deal. A bigger problem, to me, was the abuse leveled by old man Udonis Haslem.

Questions abound

Tonight provided plenty of negatives. But with every negative, it’s easy to offer a reasonable response.

Bad: Frank is overhyped, Diallo’s bad and Payton is meh.

Response: No worries, it’s preseason!

Bad: The defense gave up 74 at half.

Response: No worries, the Pels were without NBA All-Defense first teamers AD and Jrue.

Bad: New Orleans is the only winless team in preseason with about a week to get right before Real Game Number 1.

Answer: Gentry will bring the guys around and we’ll pick up where we left off from sweeping Portland in the playoffs.

What do you think?

The Pelicans will move on and play the Toronto Raptors tomorrow at The Blender, closing out the exhibition schedule.