With 20 games left on the schedule, it’s going to take something extra special from the New Orleans Pelicans to squeeze into the 2020 playoffs, starting with a victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night.
With the Pelicans having fallen five games behind the Grizzlies for the 8th playoff seed, New Orleans is staring at the need to finish the season with a flurry of wins, even if Memphis remains perfectly average. Say the Grizzlies finish the year with 10 wins and 10 losses, .500 ball. Well, that’ll require the Pelicans to go 15-5 the rest of the way (and cement the tiebreaker over Memphis) — and we haven’t even discussed the three other Western Conference teams New Orleans would need to leapfrog as they’ve slid all the way down to 12th.
The first step in getting back on track for the Pelicans is to end their three-game losing streak with a win over the Heat. However, that won’t be easy as Miami is a top four team in the East, having won nearly two of every three games all season and entering SKC on a four-game winning streak.
Everything starts with their new leader, Jimmy Butler (20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists), who personifies what the Heat are all about more than most. Butler is that rare combination of good numbers, supreme toughness and unrelenting effort — the perfect beacon for a franchise led by Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. Under this duo’s leadership, Miami has always oozed dedication and effort, but they now have the horses to really make waves for the first time since the Heatles disbanded.
Beyond Butler, Bam Adebayo (16.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists) deserves just as much praise for having made himself an All-Star in three short years. Bam entered the league with little murmur, but he’s become one of the best defenders and versatile offensive threats for a big man. He can guard all five positions when needed, and outside of possessing a reliable jump shot, can get his own or find the open man.
Miami’s incredible scouting department is also responsible for several other indistinguishable starters to the common fan. Kenrick Nunn (15.7 points, 3.5 assists) and Duncan Robinson (13.0 points, 3.6 made threes) have both been revelations. Nunn, an undrafted rookie, has blazing speed and a wonderful scoring mentality. Robinson has quickly established himself as one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the game today.
The Miami Heat do not take nights off. Don’t ever expect them to beat themselves. They play a slower, more methodically style of basketball which may be considered boring (Heat sit in bottom five or worse in 2nd chance points, transition and points in the paint), but it’s wonderfully effective. Miami’s offense produces 25.3 free throws attempts (4th) and a 38.5% marksmanship from the outside (2nd).
New Orleans has a tall order of finding the postseason, but it must start with a win Friday on their home floor. However, keep this in the back of your mind: Even if the Pelicans go on to lose tonight, they’re playing in meaningful basketball contests. For the young core of Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the rest, these final 20 games will serve as wonderful experience.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (26-36) at Miami Heat (40-22)
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA
When: Friday, March 6, 2020, 7:00 PM
Watch: FSNO, ESPN
Listen: ESPN Radio 100.3 FM