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NBA Preseason Preview: Pelicans open exhibition schedule against Heat

Two key veterans will sit, possibly a third as well

Believe it or not, we’re less than 24 hours away from the first action of the 2020-21 campaign for the Pelicans. New Orleans will face the Heat on Monday in preseason game #1, with a tip-off time in Miami at 7:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. Central).

Of course, it wouldn’t be New Orleans basketball if there wasn’t an accompanying injury report. According to the team, Eric Bledsoe (medical protocols) and JJ Redick (medical protocols) didn’t make the trip to Florida. Wenyen Gabriel (right knee/quadriceps tendinosis) is also out. In addition, Pelicans center Steven Adams (left hamstring soreness) is listed as questionable to play.

Despite the negatives, there are plenty of things to look forward to in the exhibition game. For starters, we should get a healthy dose of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.

“We’ll play guys pretty good minutes,” Van Gundy said after Sunday’s practice. “I’d be surprised if I went beyond ten guys in the game. The starters, I would think, will be 30 minutes, maybe more, maybe less. I haven’t totally mapped it out. We’re going to play them. We need the time together on the court and we need the conditioning.”

There may not be a better test for the Pelicans in a meaningless contest than against the Heat. Although Miami hasn’t released an injury report as of this writing, the expectation is that Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and other key members should play. The Heat, like the Pelicans, only have two preseason games on the schedule and Erik Spoelstra has mentioned about wanting to maintain the continuity from their impressive 2020 playoff run.

“At least we have some built-in, familiar rotations already. We’ll be able to add Avery [Bradley] and Moe [Harkless] and Precious [Achiuwa] to that mix, but I want to proceed getting everybody physically right, getting everybody working on our continuity, continue to build our system specific to this group and see if we can improve our game,” he said. “So, those are the things that we’re focusing on to get ready for our first game. And we’ll use the preseason games accordingly and appropriately. It’ll be different – there are only two games – but this practice time will be really important to work on conditioning and rhythm and all of these things.”

Three things to watch

  1. Zion Williamson. More is expected from the phenom, but the physique is chiseled and everyone privileged enough to see him thus far in training camp has walked away singing his praises. While we all want to see the highlights, will Zion show some improvement on the defensive end as well as flashes in a point forward role?
  2. Lonzo Ball. All followers are aware of the two versions of Zo witnessed in 2019-20, but entering a contract season, Ball should have all the motivation necessary to show out. Will his three-point shot remain effective? Will he be able to run the offense more cleanly, committing less turnovers? Will he be the communicator SVG seeks from the point guard position on both ends of the floor?
  3. Defense. Van Gundy squads have long been able to hang their hats on the defensive end of the floor. While the head coach has said he isn’t going to make adjustments for this preseason matchup, will the base defense show appeal? If Adams is in uniform, will New Orleans at least show glimpses of potentially being a top 15 defensive team?

Let’s geaux Pels!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat

When: December 14, 6:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: FSNO, NBA TV (both feeds will feature the Heat’s regional affiliate FOX Sports Sun)

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.