The simplicity was in the use, 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 out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter and never looked back in what became a 124-98 victory on Wednesday night at Smoothie King. Center, his biggest victory of the season.
“It feels good to be on the other side of having a lead of about 20 for a change, holding our lead, getting a big win along the way, just playing good basketball overall,” forward Jimmy Butler said.
Capitalizing on the return to health of their preferred starting lineup, with point guard Kyle Lowry back in the mix for the first time in more than a week, the Heat moved to 1-1 in the three-game road trip that concludes Friday night. against the Dallas Mavericks, now back to his best of the season, four games over .500.
With their first double-digit win since Nov. 12 against the visiting Charlotte Hornets, the Heat finished with 37 assists on 50 baskets, tying the New York Knicks for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unlike previous losses this season against short-staffed opponents, the Heat showed appreciation for getting back on track after Monday’s road-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks, when they fell behind by 26 early and they could never 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 win, finished with 18 points in 26:34, 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. Taking control: The Heat went up 20 early and took a 36-23 lead in the second period. The Heat’s lead then expanded to 26 in the second period before leading 70-51 at intermission.
After the Pelicans rallied within 14 in the third period, the Heat entered the fourth up 98-76, constantly fending off challenges from the Pelicans.
The Heat then went up by 30 points in the fourth and moved on from there, as the headlines looked on.
“Really inspiring,” Spoelsrta said, “to be able to keep those leads and then be able to carry them into the fourth quarter as well.”
2. Lowry returns: Lowry opened with an aggressive lean in his return from a four-game absence with a sore knee, notching an early steal and two early scoring transition layups.
“He was a big contributor to setting the tone on both ends,” Spoelstra said. “From the very beginning, you want to set the tone for the game along the way. He had that early steal in the post and a couple of other physical defensive possessions, and he had two early attacks before the defense came together. And that just set the tone for everyone else to do something similar.”
He closed with seven points and eight rebounds in 22:01, also with four assists, playing without losses.
“It was good to understand me well,” Lowry said. “My knee has been bothering me for a while, so it was good to be back.
“I feel pretty good right now and I hope it doesn’t happen again and you just build on it.”
3. Continuity recovered: The secondary impact of the Heat’s starting lineup being intact again is that there was continuity on the bench again.
That had Vincent, a starter in the previous four games, making three early 3-pointers and Strus also active early, with a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
That took some of the second unit pressure off of Victor Oladipo, who again was solid as a sixth man.
“Our starters gave us a good start, an early lead,” Vincent said. “And that gave us some momentum. The bench brought great energy”.
In addition, undrafted rookie Orlando Robinson played as the Heat’s backup center ahead of veteran Dewayne Dedmon, who hasn’t played since the team’s one-game suspension last week for breaking off the bench.
And no, Strus said he couldn’t recall ever closing with 10 assists at any level.
“Man,” he said with a smile, “I’ve never passed the ball this far in my life. That’s the truth. I haven’t even been close to that.”
4. Standing: Unlike previous matchups against Jonas Valanciunas, dating back to his time with the Toronto Raptors, the Heat and Adebayo this time got the best of the Pelicans’ burly center.
Adebayo was up 15 points at halftime, going 7-for-10 from the field over the first two quarters.
Adebayo was 11 of 15 from the field, 4 of 6 from the line, being able to sit on the bench while Valanciunas kept playing, now leading the NBA in points in the paint.
“Ultimately, we want Bam to be as involved as possible,” Spoelstra said. “We can’t get the ball to him enough.”
5. From time to time: While the 3-point shot still isn’t there since his return from a three-game absence due to a sore Achilles tendon, Herro turned into a playmaker, with seven assists in his 24:20.
After shooting 1-for-8 from beyond the arc on Monday’s return in Atlanta, Herro this time went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, making all six of his attempts inside the arc.