Hit vs. Pelicans Christmas Day in the NBA: Miami stops Zion Williamson, Pelicans for first season win

Slipping into the hoop, it’s a great open lane.
Down the field he goes laughing all the way.
You want to win a ring, the spirit of Miami is shining,
What fun winning and singing the Nasr song tonight.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
Miami Heat, hit the swans hard today.

Jimmy Butler scored just 16 minutes in the opening game of Christmas Day, but Miami had a good time. Gifts were wrapped in New Orleans with plenty of open looks for archer Duncan Robinson, who finished the match with 23 points, 8 to 14 in a 111-98 win. Butler did not play in the second half due to a stiff right ankle.

Robinson scored 18 of his first-half points, all from the rear, helping the Heat build a 23-point lead. The Pelicans cut that advance in the second half, but their half-field attack was subpar the whole time.

New Orleans stars, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, did some heavy lifting. Williamson finished with 32 points on 11 shots of 20 and 14 rebounds in his first game on Christmas Day and went 10 to 15 from the free throw line. Ingram scored 28 points on a 7 to 17 throw, including 4 to 8 from depth, and made 10 of 11 free throw attempts. Were it not for all the trips to the line and the strong throwback of the pelican attack, this would have been uglier.

Goran Dragic came off the bench to score 18 points and assist nine assists in 27 minutes for Miami, shot 6 to 11 and added four shots. Reserve teammate Avery Bradley provided 12 points, four assists and a close-perimeter defense in his debut at the Heat. The second unit in New Orleans was not a match for the Heat team at all.

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Here are three points from the Miami victory:

1. The dragon is breathing fire

Dragic is 34 years old and suffered a torn plantar fascia to his left foot in the first match of the finals two months ago. He was not in good health when he returned to play in Game 6. When he re-signed with the Heat team in the off-season, it was fair to question whether he would be the same strength he had in the bubble before an injury.

Early returns were very positive. He had 20 points on 8 versus 13 assists and seven assists in 26 minutes in the season opener against the Orlando Magic, then ripped apart the Pelicans.

Miami dropped by five minutes when Dragic scored five and a half minutes earlier in the first quarter. When he came out, they were 14, and in just nine minutes he collected eight points and six assists.

Just like they did in the qualifiers, Dragic and Bam Adebayo were phenomenal. In that dominant period, the Heat performed the same play three times in a row and scored in three different ways:

The Miami attack lost its tempo a little without Butler in the second half, but it was an exceptional performance overall. Neither Dragic nor the team seem to be on the verge of backing down.

2. The degree of difficulty of ingram

Here Ingram saves the Pelican by making a disputed 3 draw over Adebayo near the end of the first half and hitting the bell with a similar shot over Mo Harkles at the end of the third game:

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Here are three fancy Ingram endings in the four-minute period before that beater:

These are stellar things. The Pelicans didn’t have much rhythm when the Miami defense was tuned in, and Ingram was still enjoying an effective afternoons. Sometimes you have to make difficult shots and you have to hit the free throw line. (Last season, he only managed 11 free throws in a match eight times. The best way for a more sophisticated player to take another step forward is to raise their free throws rate, especially now that he’s made money off the line.)

But the flip side is that this is difficult! It’s also a reflection of New Orleans not being able to consistently score in this game and have some issues to see moving forward. The defenses will continue to crumble on Ingram engines because they disrespect Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, or Williamson on the periphery, and Stephen Adams will always be in the paint. Talented as Ingram, Pelican needs to find a way to make things easier for him.

Related: I wonder if new coach Stan Van Gundy will eventually put JG Riddick in the starting line-up.

3. Monitoring the machinations of Miami

Speaking of the starting lineups, Miami went with an exciting lineup on Friday: Butler, Tyler Hero, Robinson, Myers Leonard and Adebayo. Two days earlier, he started Harkless in place of Leonard, who had not played a single minute.

Harkless had nine minutes this time, but it might have been DNP-CD had it not been for Butler’s injury. Leonard played 20 minutes, which is exactly the amount that Kelly Olinik played against the Magic. Olenick did not see the pitch against New Orleans, nor Kendrick Nunn, who played eight minutes against Orlando. (This is where it’s worth noting that Bradley pulls out of a hamstring injury and sits on Wednesday.)

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The point here is that coach Erik Spoelstra has a lot of options. Some of those players wore out and dropped out of last season’s tournament as well, but that’s new for Harkless. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Harkless shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for Jae Crowder, just another spin-caliber player whose turn will flip-flop as Spoelstra experiences a different look.

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