When the New Orleans Pelicans tipped off against the Miami Heat, they had seven players unavailable due to injury. By the time the game had concluded, that number had increased to nine as Frank Jackson (left neck contusion) and Derrick Favors (lower back spasms) had their nights finish early.
One never wants to make injuries the primary excuse, but it’s simply impossible to overlook at this point. With Jackson and Favors joining Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Zion Williamson, JJ Redick and Darius Miller on the sidelines, Alvin Gentry was forced to crawl to the finish line with only eight healthy bodies.
A loss just felt inevitable.
At one point in the third quarter, the teams were tied at 61 apiece. However, by the time the final buzzer sounded, the Heat stood on the winning side of a 109-94 score. The Pelicans were able to hang around because they exhibited great grit and knocked down a good number of three-pointers, but eventually they wore down. Also, we must give Miami some credit: they’re a really tough basketball team and the only key cog Erik Spoelstra was missing was Goran Dragic. The Heat should have won this game going away on their home floor.
“I thought the guys played extremely hard,” said Alvin Gentry to postgame media. “We pieced together lineups that ended up doing everything they could, playing competitive basketball. We really just ran out of gas, to be honest with you. We just didn’t have enough people.”
It was a really fun battle until Miami pulled away. Kenrich Williams was assertive, scoring five points early and later dishing out a couple of beautiful assists. Jrue Holiday’s defense was excellent as usual but his perimeter jumper was flawless too as he started the game 4-4 from three-point range. And if you missed, please go find footage of the best three or four seconds of E’Twaun Moore’s professional life on a basketball court. Although this sentence won’t do it justice, Moore came up with an impressive steal, an even greater dribble between his legs as he raced down the court in transition, and then finished the play with a gorgeous slo-mo scoop.
But honestly, the night belonged to the rookies. Although they still made mistakes and will continue to do so in the future, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes are growing up before our very eyes. NAW went off for 27 points, canned six threes, grabbed four rebounds and had three assists. He struggled to get his shot off inside the paint a few times, but with his confidence as his greatest asset, it didn’t deter him the least bit. He appears to have the makeup of a guy who if he gets knocked down 88 times, he’s going to stand up 88 times and still think he’s going to walk away the winner from a fight.
“I think that’s the thing that’s good about him and I think it’s going to be something that’s beneficial to him in the future,” said Gentry. “You’ve got to be able to forget about the last shot and think the next one is going in. I think he has that mentality. He understands the mistakes he’s making.”
Hayes finished with 12 points, three rebounds and a couple of blocks in 23 minutes of action. Nearly all of these numbers he registered were of the “oh damn” variety — a putback dunk, a monster jam off a cut, a fancy tip-in, and a hey you may have burned me but I’m so fast and long that I will recover every time and still block your ass stuff around the rim.
The Miami Heat were led by undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn’s 22 points, but Jimmy Butler set the tone with his 16-point, 13-assist effort. He appears the perfect addition for Pat Riley’s group of super try-hards. It doesn’t surprise me the least bit that the Heat’s record now stands at 9-3 because they look like one of the four best teams in the East.
I must point out that it was interesting to see the Heat finish with just six fouls in the contest — and just one in the game’s first 24 minutes, but it’s hard to imagine the Pelicans still making it to crunch time if the referees hadn’t swallowed all their whistles. They were honestly just too shorthanded on the night.
Up next, the Pelicans quickly fly home and welcome the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors tomorrow at the Smoothie King Center. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are of course out for the foreseeable future and we received word today from Woj that D’Angelo Russell will join them on the sidelines.
Hey, a fair fight? Geaux Pels!