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Friday, January 27, 2023

Heat show completeness in crushing shorthanded Pelicans 124-98 – The Denver Post

The simplicity was in the seizing, something that has not always been the case this season for the Miami Heat.

This time, against a New Orleans Pelicans team lacking Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones, Erik Spoelstra’s team jumped to a 20-point first-quarter lead and never looked back in what turned into a 124-98 victory Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center, their most lopsided victory of the season.

“It feels good to be on the other side of being up about 20 for a change, of maintaining our lead, getting an important win on the road, just playing overall good basketball,” forward Jimmy Butler said.

Taking advantage of a return to health of their preferred starting lineup, with point guard Kyle Lowry back in the mix for the first time in over a week, the Heat moved to 1-1 on the three-game trip that concludes Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks, now again at season-best four games above .500.

With their first double-digit victory since Nov. 12 against the visiting Charlotte Hornets, the Heat closed with 37 assists on their 50 baskets, moving into a tie with the New York Knicks for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Unlike previous losses this season against shorthanded opponents, the Heat showed an appreciation for getting back on track after Monday’s trip-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks, when they fell behind by 26 early and never were able to recover.

“I think more than anything it was a good collective response to our disappointing game in Atlanta,” Spoelstra said.

Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 26 points and eight rebounds. Butler, allowed to play measured minutes in a rare Heat blowout win, closed with 18 points in 26:34 minutes, sitting out the fourth quarter.

The Heat also got 16 points from Gabe Vincent, 14 from Tyler Herro and 16 points and 10 assists from Max Strus.

Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:

1. Seizing control: The Heat went up 20 early and took a 36-23 lead into the second period. The Heat’s lead then expanded to 26 in the second period before they went into the intermission up 70-51.

After the Pelicans clawed back within 14 in the third period, the Heat then went into the fourth up 98-76, consistently fending off Pelicans challenges.

The Heat then went up by 30 in the fourth and cruised from there, as the starters looked on.

“Really inspiring,” Spoelsrta said, “to be able to keep those leads and then to be able to carry them on in the fourth quarter, as well.”

2. Lowry returns: Lowry opened with an aggressive bent in his return from a four-game absence due to knee soreness, coming up with an early steal and twice scoring transition layups at the outset.

“He was a big contributor of setting the tone on both ends,” Spoelstra said. “Right out of the gate, you want to set the tone for the game on the road. He had that early steal on the post up, and a couple of other physical defensive possessions, and he had two early attacks before the defense was set. And that just kind of set the tone for everybody else to do something similar.”

He closed with seven points and eight rebounds in 22:01, also with four assists, playing without a turnover.

“It was good to get myself right,” Lowry said. “My knee’s been bothering me for a while, so it was good to get back.

“I feel pretty good right now and hopefully it doesn’t reoccur and you just kind of build on that.”

3. Continuity regained: The ancillary impact of the Heat starting lineup again being intact is there again was bench continuity.

That had Vincent, a starter the previous four games, converting three early 3-pointers and Strus also active early, with a pair of first-half 3-pointers.

That took some of the second-unit pressure off Victor Oladipo, who again was solid as sixth man.

“Our starters got us out to a good start, an early lead,” Vincent said. “And that kind of gave us some momentum. The bench brough great energy.”

In addition, undrafted rookie Orlando Robinson played as the Heat reserve center ahead of veteran Dewayne Dedmon, who has not played since last week’s one-game team suspension for storming off the bench.

And, no, Strus said he could not recall ever closing with 10 assists on any level.

“Man,” he said with a smile, “I’ve never passed the ball that much in my life. That’s the truth. I’ve never even been close to it.”

4. Standing tall: Unlike previous matchups against Jonas Valanciunas, dating to his time with the Toronto Raptors, the Heat and Adebayo this time got the best of the hulking Pelicans center.

Adebayo was up to 15 points by the intermission, at 7 of 10 from the field over the opening two periods.

Adebayo closed 11 of 15 from the field, 4 of 6 from the line, able to take a seat on the bench as Valanciunas played on, now leading the NBA in points in the paint.

“We ultimately want to get Bam involved as much as possible,” Spoelstra said. “We can’t get the ball to him enough.”

5. Off and on: While the 3-point shot still is not there since his return from a three-game absence due to Achilles pain, Herro stepped up as playmaker, with seven assists in his 24:20.

After shooting 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in Monday’s return in Atlanta, Herro this time was 0 for 7 from beyond the arc, making all six of his attempts inside the arc.

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