MIAMI – The injury news before Saturday’s game was mixed for the Miami Heat.
But even with two of their players returning, the Heat could not stay with the New Orleans Pelicans, dropping a 109-94 decision at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Goran Dragic and James Johnson returned, but it appears Dion Waiters will miss significant time after spraining his ankle Friday against the Mavericks. Still, the Heat (17-16) could not replicate their hot-shooting night (63.9 percent) from Friday and their defense was a step slow all game as they fell to 7-8 at home.
The Pelicans (16-5) had six players in double figures, led by reserve Ian Clark’s 19. New Orleans shot 60 percent on 3-pointers (15-of-25)
Tyler Johnson led the Heat with 20 points. He was 9-of-17. The other four starters were 17-of-44.
“It wasn’t for a lack of our guys wanting or putting in effort,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It just wasn’t one of our better nights. We’ll move on. I still think there are some really good things going on with our team despite the injuries, despite some of the adversity we’re going through. I like the direction we’re going.”
Waiters rolled the ankle early Friday. An X-ray and MRI were negative but the ankle is the same one that forced him to miss 13 games at the end of last season.
Dragic and Johnson returned after missing three games each, Dragic with a sore left elbow and Johnson with bursitis in his right ankle. The Heat continue to be without center Hassan Whiteside (knee bruise) and Justise Winslow (knee strain).
Here are our five takeaways:
Heat run out of gas: The Heat had a rough week with four games in six days, capped by a back-to-back, and losing three starters to injuries. Miami was able to pull off the upset in Boston on Wednesday and shoot their way to a win over Dallas on Friday. But everything seemed to catch up to them in the second half against New Orleans. With Spoelstra’s rotation limited to eight main players Friday and players logging at least 36 minutes, the Heat were outscored 53-41 during the second half by New Orleans and faltered defensively, allowing the Pelicans to shoot 53.4 percent from the field overall.
“If we would have played better, New Orleans was still on top of their game tonight,” Spoelstra said. “It was just one of those nights.”
Dragic, James Johnson gut it out: The Heat ’s two returning injured players had rough nights. Dragic, playing with a sleeve over his sore left elbow, shot just 5-of-15 and scored 13 points. He was seen shaking his arm several times. Johnson was productive while he was in the game but he played just eight minutes, all in the first half, and remained in the locker room at the start of the second half to receive treatment. Johnson, who made all three of his shots and finished with eight points, had his lower leg and ankle wrapped in ice after he came out of the game in the second quarter.
Spoelstra said as soon as he saw Johnson limping, “I got him out and I wasn’t even thinking about putting him back in. He just reaggravated it.” On Dragic, Spoelstra said: “I thought it was good for him just to get out there and just get some rhythm.”
Boogie and The Brow: The Pelicans’ big advantage entering the game was their talented, versatile and huge front court of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Despite Bam Adebayo holding his own down low against two fellow Kentucky Wildcats, Cousins and Davis combined for 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and seven blocks. Cousins and Davis entered the game sixth and seventh in the league in scoring.
“They’re a very good 3-point shooting team, but a lot of those shots don’t just materialize by themselves if you don’t have a couple studs drawing the defense,” Spoelstra said. “They present a lot of different challenges that you normally don’t face. Two 7-foot players that don’t play like traditional 7-foot players.”
Another game, another starting lineup: Spoelstra rolled out his 10th different starting lineup. Dragic returned to the starting five, and with Waiters out, Tyler Johnson remained in the starting backcourt. The frontcourt was the same as the past three games: Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and Adebayo. The lineup played together for the first seven minutes of the game, outscoring New Orleans, 16-15, and just three minutes to start the second half (7-6 advantage) before Olynyk got into foul trouble.
Home for the Holidays: The Heat are in the middle of this four-game home stand with games against Orlando on Tuesday and Brooklyn on Friday remaining. Then, after a short trip to Orlando for a back-to-back next Saturday, Miami returns to AmericanAirlines Arena for three more home games to ring in the New Year. Despite Saturday’s loss, Miami is taking advantage of the favorable portion of their schedule with a 6-3 record since defeating Brooklyn in Mexico City on Dec. 9.