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NBA Preview: A rested Pelicans squad seeks recompense against hobbled Heat

New Orleans looks to vault above .500 for the first time since November 16th with a win over Miami.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Culminating in a thrilling 118-114 victory over the West-leading Thunder, the New Orleans Pelicans finally fell into some well-deserved rest after an abnormally cruel 19-game schedule over the course of 32 days

The break couldn’t have come at a better time.

While Payton continues to warm the bench, (with January as the likely return date), Nikola Mirotic has been a shell of himself since suffering a sprained ankle, and E’Twaun Moore has mellowed from his near historic season start since straining his calf.

Both players should be able to return to the lineup this week at full health, and team officials are hoping to see Moore as soon as tonight in a revenge match of sorts against the (12-16) Miami Heat. As you may remember, Moore’s injury came with 1:34 remaining against this very same Heat squad last month. A healthy Moore and his career-high 14 points per game would be a welcome addition against the tenth-best defensive unit in the NBA that held these Pels to but 101 points in South Beach.

The Heat will be without Goran Dragic once more (knee), but remember that didn’t stop the slow-starting Heat from jumping out to a 30-point first-half advantage and 61-41 halftime lead in their last matchup. The Pelicans would mount a sizable comeback, but fell short as has often been the story this season.

However, the Pelicans have surged recently behind the stellar play of their newfound core.

Tim Frazier leads the NBA in Assist Ratio (46.1) by a wide-margin, and the Pelicans have even received a bit of offensive playmaking from (gasp!) Solomon Hill! Stunning defense against Paul George, coupled with 47% shooting from three over his last six games, has suddenly made Solo more than playable. But can he sustain it?

He’ll need to against Josh Richardson and the Heat. The Heat will use their defense, headlined by Richardson, McGruder, Johnson and Whiteside, coupled with their sluggish pace (18th) to stymie any hopes of a fast start. As head coach Erik Spoelstra knows, the Pelicans are most dangerous with their foot down on the pedal, and nothing pushes the adrenaline button like a first-quarter charge.

The Pelicans will need to avoid shot-swatting Hassan Whiteside and the bruising Bam Adebayo who limited the Pelicans to 46 points in the paint, down from their league-leading average (58), and obliterated poor Julius Randle (eight points on 2/6, team-worst -14).

To mitigate this, they’ll need Tim Frazier, whose instincts have helped create the easy looks the Pelicans have been without. Frazier was the largest positive for the Pelicans in their last encounter (+12) in just 24 minutes, and head coach Alvin Gentry should be comfortable entrusting him with an even larger workload. In fact, since the Heat encounter, Frazier has played 29 minutes or more in six of seven contests.

A few more points in the paint will help, but it probably won’t be enough. To keep Whiteside and Adebayo’s effect at bay, they’ll need to hit on the deep ball. The Heat are in the bottom ten in defending the three for good reason. Adebayo and Whiteside give teams problems in the restricted area, but they possess less than requisite foot speed and lateral movement on the perimeter. Look for the Pelicans to attack the paint and kick to (can’t believe I’m saying this) Solo beyond the line and improve upon the Pelicans’ putrid mark of 21.4% on November 30th.

Richardson was slowed by Jrue Holiday (20 on 8/22), but Dwyane Wade contributed 18 and Kelly Olynyk was a killer from three (3/6). It will take 48 minutes of hustle and help defense to beat a team that goes ten deep, especially if Tyler Johnson (hip, probable) can return.

The Pelicans are well-rested and at home where they have been respectable (11-4). Expect the Pelicans to grind this one out playing their basketball, and break the .500 barrier for the first time in a month.

Prediction: 112-107, Pelicans

Miami New Orleans
Pace: 99.5 (18th) Pace: 103 (3rd)
ORtg: 107.1 (25th) ORtg: 114(4th)
DRtg: 108.3 (8th) DRtg: 112.1 (23rd)
Projected Starters:
Miami New Orleans
PG - Rodney McGruder PG - Tim Frazier
SG - Josh Richardson SG - Jrue Holiday
SF - Justise Winslow F - Solomon Hill
F - James Johnson PF - Julius Randle
C - Hassan Whiteside C - Anthony Davis

Who: Miami Heat (12-16) at New Orleans Pelicans (15-15)

When: 6:00 p.m. Central

Where: Smoothie King Center - New Orleans, LA

TV: Fox Sports Nola, NBA League Pass

Line: Pelicans -7, Over/Under 221.5

Injury Report: Pelicans - E’Twaun Moore (questionable, calf), Nikola Mirotic (out, ankle), Elfrid Payton (out, finger), Heat - Tyler Johnson (hip, probable), Dwayne Wade (questionable, soreness) Goran Dragic (out, knee), Dion Waiters (out)

For perspective from the other side, please visit the great work our friends at Hot Hot Hoops are doing.

To read up on Julius Randle’s break out season, click here!

Let’s geaux, Pels!