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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans welcome Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat to kick off their post-All-Star Break schedule

Battle of the two eight seeds!

New Orleans Pelicans v Miami Heat Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans (31-26) begin their second half of the schedule with a matchup against the Miami Heat (30-28). Both teams currently sit eighth in their respected conferences, hanging precariously onto playoff hopes.

The Heat limped into the All-Star break, losing seven of eight games, and watched their lead in the Eastern Conference tumble from a comfortable fourth in the standings all the way down to eighth in the matter of about two weeks.

However, the Pelicans, who posted an impressive 109-94 victory in Miami right before Christmas, need to be careful to not underestimate an Erik Spoelstra-led team. The head coach of the Heat is regarded as being one of the best in the business, always having his teams prepared and ready to play with waves and waves of energy.

Although Dion Waiters is out for the season following ankle surgery and Kelly Olynyk is doubtful but not expected to play, the Heat still have Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson. In addition, Dwyane Wade is back on the roster after a deadline trade brought him back home.

Three Keys to Victory

Don’t let Hassan Whiteside start strong. Paging Emeka Okafor? According to the Miami Herald, Whiteside hasn’t appeared in 14 fourth quarters among his 39 games played.

But a clear pattern has emerged: When Whiteside is really good early in the game, he has a decent chance (though hardly assured) of playing in the fourth. But when he’s merely average or less, he has virtually no chance of playing meaningful minutes in the fourth, barring foul trouble elsewhere.

With Olynyk likely missing the game, Bam Adebayo, a rookie, could be tasked with guarding Anthony Davis a lot down the stretch. One has to like those odds, especially with Davis now sporting a Russell Westbrook mentality, huh?

Run Miami’s shooters off the three-point line. The Heat have relied on beating opponents with good defense and lots of outside made shots this season. During their recent lousy stretch of play, however, their three-point shot has abandoned them. After knocking down 36.4% of their three-pointers in the first 50 games, they’ve converted just 32.8% of those attempts over the last eight games. New Orleans can’t let Miami get a lot of open, easy looks in the first half — keep that rim looking the size of a thimble!

Feed Anthony Davis. This might be a key I decide to use for the rest of the season because when Davis piles up the points, the Pelicans win. When AD has scored 40+, New Orleans is 5-0. When he’s topped the 25-point mark, the Pelicans are 22-10. You catch my drift?

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Miami Heat

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: February 23, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM