The Miami Heat were without Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, and Markieff Morris on Wednesday night, but it didn’t matter. Even after falling behind early, Miami battled back to beat the Pelicans, which all begins with the returning Jimmy Butler.
So, here are five takeaways from this one…
#1: Pelicans come out hot. The Heat do not.
The Pelicans started out the game shooting 5 for 7 from three. To put that in perspective, they were shooting 5 for 7 from the field at that point as well. Not only were they letting it fly often, but they were dropping, giving them quite the amount of padding early on. Some of that was the lack of strong defensive rotations, but it was also just talented offensive players making shots. On the other side of the floor, Miami couldn’t get anything going out the gate. Jimmy Butler did his part with 10 first quarter points, which I’ll discuss next, while the rest of the Heat had 11 total first quarter points. When you’re down 2 starters, 1 strong bench piece, a struggling Tyler Herro to begin the game, and some foul trouble with PJ Tucker and Dewayne Dedmon, that’s usually not a formula for a “hot” start.
#2: Jimmy Butler returns, and he looks like Jimmy Butler.
Jimmy Butler missed the last 3 games and 3 quarters, but much like he usually does, he came back firing. A 21 point first half is the perfect starting point of how he was getting things going on the offensive end for Miami. But the interesting thing about that was it was done in a multitude of ways. For starters, while the rest of the league is doing anything they can to draw a foul, Butler continues to do it effortlessly. He drives so hard that it’s hard for a player one-on-one not to make contact with him. But that wasn’t where his points were coming from, since that mid-range turn-around was falling early. When he can use that drop-step and let it fly in that inner wing, it’s usually a good night for him, which it was.
#3: KZ Okpala’s offensive restrictions expanded even further tonight.
We pretty much know the story of KZ Okpala on this team: an athletic, defensive build with many restrictions on the offensive end. But the early part of this game took that to another level. As I said before, Tucker getting himself in early foul trouble meant an early insertion for KZ Okpala. And well, the Pelicans’ seemed ready for this moment. The plan was to sag off of him in a total disrespectful way, and they took the bait. Okpala came in shooting that open jumper right away, and it led to Miami’s offense plummeting even further. I’m not saying it was all his fault, but when the Heat offense is relying on Okpala making his threes, that usually means they’re in a tough spot. But ultimately, Butler’s unconsciousness to a double team on the attack negated that a bit.
#4: A different type of game from Tyler Herro, but an important one.
As I mentioned early, the start of this game for Tyler Herro was simply awful. It started out with him playing a spot-up role right out the gate, but then the consensus was that he just wasn’t in any type of offensive groove. Not only could he not get a shot to drop, but he couldn’t keep the ball in his possession, as he kept getting it ripped. But then he got it going. The reason I say this game for him was so important is that we need to see him face this type of self imposed adversity. When the struggles of you’re biggest skill and pure talent is shining through, what’s next? And well, he showed that keeping it up and not getting away from his game is the way to go. Even if he has to shoot an accidental half-court shot in the meantime.
#5: Udonis Haslem. That’s it. That’s my takeaway.
Let me start by saying this: Udonis Haslem is the best big not in the Miami Heat’s rotation. They went the Okpala route early which didn’t work out, then transitioned into a single minute of Omer Yurtseven. But as a second half switch-up was needed, Udonis Haslem was the way to go after the continued foul trouble. And not only is he a step-up in terms of knowing where to be on the floor while being a much more trusted plug and play guy, but he’s also just more effective. Sliding into certain slots on the roll, rising up for blocks at the rim, and awaiting the incoming attacker for the usual charge. When Miami’s down this many bigs, it shouldn’t take this long to know Haslem is the right move. And I think we see him more frequently moving forward when needed.
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