Takeaways from Miami Heat’s road win over New Orleans Pelicans

The Miami Heat’s first game in over a week included a scuffle and ejections. But most importantly for the Heat, it included another win.

The Heat escaped what became a heated and intense game against the New Orleans Pelicans with a 106-95 victory on Friday night at Smoothie King Center to kick off the post-All-Star break schedule and a four-game trip.

It marked the Heat’s third straight win and seventh win in the past nine games.

The Heat needed to close out the win without star Jimmy Butler, who was one of four players ejected after a fourth-quarter scuffle between the two teams with 11:19 to play.

After the Pelicans took a two-point lead with 8:31 remaining and grabbed the momentum, the Heat responded by scoring 11 unanswered points to pull ahead by nine points with 2:40 to play on its way to the road victory. The Heat turned to its zone defense down the stretch and it worked, helping to limit the Pelicans to just 15 points on 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) shooting from the field and 2-of-9 (22.2 percent) shooting on threes.

“Once it was all done, the response was appropriate — more discipline, physicality and force, but not going over the top,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

While Butler was forced out of the game early, he did a lot for the Heat before his ejection.

In his first game action in more than two weeks after missing the Heat’s final two games before the break because of a death in his family, Butler closed Friday’s win with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, 1-of-1 shooting on threes and 8-of-12 shooting from the foul line, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals in 27 minutes before being tossed from the game.

Heat center Bam Adebayo added 24 points, seven rebounds, one steal and three blocks. He took over after Butler’s ejection, scoring 12 points and anchoring the Heat’s defense in the fourth quarter.

“I got in a flow early,” Adebayo said. “Teammates started finding me in my spots. From there in the fourth, coach just kept calling my number.”

For the Pelicans, Zion Williamson finished with 23 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field, nine rebounds and seven assists. But after scoring 14 points on nine field-goal attempts in the first half, he totaled just nine points on 13 field-goal attempts in the second half.

The Heat led by as many as 19 points in Friday’s first half before the Pelicans closed the second quarter on a big 28-9 run to tie the score at 58 entering halftime.

That led to a competitive and back-and-forth second half that included eight lead changes and a brawl.

It ended with a quality Heat victory, as it only marked the Pelicans’ second loss in the last 10 games.

“I think our team is so ready for anything that anybody’s throwing at us,” Butler said. “We’re so together, playing some incredible basketball. I don’t think it matters who we go up against right now. It’s that time of the year.”

The Heat now enters a two-day break before continuing its trip on Monday against the Kings in Sacramento.

Here are five takeaways from the Heat’s win over the Pelicans on Friday:

The Heat needed to play most of the fourth quarter without Butler because of a scuffle between the two teams.

Butler was one of four players ejected after the melee. Heat center Thomas Bryant, Pelicans forward Naji Marshall and Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado were also thrown out.

It began when Heat center Kevin Love took a foul by wrapping up Williamson to prevent an easy layup with 11:19 to play. Even as Love tried to keep Williamson on his feet, Williamson fell hard to the court after the foul.

Marshall rushed in to object to the way Williamson was fouled.

“It was just, I think, a misunderstanding on the play,” Spoelstra said. “I honestly think Zion slipped on the play when K-Love grabbed him. And it looked a lot worse than what it was. And then everybody kind of overheated at that point.”

That led to Butler and Marshall getting into a shoving match and then things escalated when they briefly grabbed each other by the neck.

“I put my hand around his neck,” Butler said. “He put his hand around my neck, and it took off the way it did.”

An angry Butler then charged toward Marshall, as players, coaches and staff members from both teams converged on the scorer’s table to try to break up the fight.

After it looked like officials had managed to separate the two teams, Bryant and Alvarado began fighting and appeared to exchange blows as another scrum formed around them.

Emotions were high in the stands, too, as a fan with a Pelicans jersey began throwing things at Heat players. A Heat fan was also escorted out after the incident.

Officials reviewed video of the scuffle for several minutes before deciding on the four ejections. Love’s foul was ruled a common foul.

“Butler and Marshall engaged in physical contact which escalates the altercation,” Crew Chief Curtis Blair said in a pool report after the game when asked to explain the four ejections. “Alvarado and Bryant engaged in a physical altercation that continued the altercation.”

The next question is, will the melee result in suspensions? If any player who wasn’t in the game left the bench during the fight, that usually leads to an automatic suspension by the league.

Heat guard Tyler Herro appears to be fine after leaving Friday’s game early with a knee injury.

While dribbling the ball up court with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Herro slipped and hyperextended his left knee.

Herro immedately went down and grabbed at his left knee before beind helped back to the locker room. He did not return to the game.

But in the locker room after the victory, Herro offered positive news.

“I think structurally everything was good,” Herro said. “No major, even minor damage. I think everything is good. It kind of just scared me more than anything.”

Herro recorded 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting on threes, six rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes before limping to the locker room late in the fourth quarter.

With starting guard Terry Rozier still out, forward Nikola Jovic remained in the Heat’s starting lineup.

The Heat opened Friday’s game with a starting lineup of Herro, Caleb Martin, Butler, Jovic and Adebayo.

It marked the third straight game that Rozier has missed with a sprained right knee and it marked Jovic’s third straight start after receiving seven DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision) in the previous 10 games.

Jovic closed Friday’s win with three points, three rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes.

The Heat has already used 29 different starting lineups this season, but Friday’s starting unit was one they had already used. The Heat improved to 1-2 this season when going with the starting lineup of Herro, Martin, Butler, Jovic and Adebayo.

The Heat outscored the Pelicans by seven points in the 17 minutes this starting group was on the court on Friday.

In addition to missing Rozier, the Heat was also without Josh Richardson (right shoulder dislocation), Orlando Robinson (lower back spasms) and Dru Smith (season-ending right knee surgery) against the Pelicans.

The Pelicans were missing two rotation players in Brandon Ingram (non-COVID illness) and Dyson Daniels (left knee meniscectomy). Also, CJ McCollum left Friday’s game midway through the second quarter because of a left ankle injury.

Newly-acquired quarter Delon Wright was not part of the rotation in his first game with the Heat.

Even with two guards out in Richardson and Rozier, the Heat went with a nine-man rotation on Friday that did not include Wright.

The Heat’s four-man bench rotation against the Pelicans included Love, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Haywood Highsmith.

Wright, 31, signed with the Heat for the rest of the season during the All-Star break after agreeing to a buyout with the Washington Wizards.

Whether Friday’s DNP-CD is a sign of things to come for Wright with the Heat or simply because he just joined the team days ago remains to be seen. The expectation is that Wright will get some opportunities to play off the bench, especially while Richardson and/or Rozier are out.

“He’s a guy that figures it out and we thought it would be a good fit for him and us, for the reasons of how he plays and how he competes and how he prioritizes defense and how disruptive he is on that side of the floor,” Spoelstra said before Friday’s game when asked about Wright. “Then offensively, he’s always been a guy that just fits in, sets up a team. And those kinds of guys have a way of making it work quickly.”

Along with Wright, the other available Heat players who did not play against the Pelicans were Thomas Bryant, Cole Swider, Alondes Williams and Jamal Cain.

More tough road games are ahead for the Heat.

The Heat now gets a two-day break before continuing its trip on Monday against the Kings in Sacramento. The Heat then closes the trip with matchups against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday and Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Starting with the Pelicans, three of the four games during the Heat’s trip come against teams with winning records. The Heat’s only game during this week-long stretch against an opponent with a losing record comes Tuesday against the Trail Blazers.

This will test the Heat, which is 13-17 this season in games against teams that entered Sunday with a winning record.

This story was originally published February 23, 2024, 10:42 PM.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.

First appeared on www.miamiherald.com

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