(C) Reuters. NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors
New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy will be back on familiar turf Friday when his Pelicans face the Miami Heat, the team that gave him his start coaching in the league in 1995.
Van Gundy’s Pelicans won their season opener on Wednesday night, defeating the Toronto Raptors, 113-99. The game also marked the Pelicans debuts of Eric Bledsoe (18 points) and Steven Adams (eight points, a game-high four steals and two blocks).
Even so, the win wasn’t easy, and Van Gundy will be looking for improvement in the Christmas Day game.
“We were turning the ball over. We were in foul trouble. Not a lot was going right for us,” Van Gundy said of his Pelicans, who trailed by as many as 11 points. “But we hung in there and made enough plays to pull away.”
Meanwhile, the Heat lost their season opener on Wednesday, falling 113-107 to the host Orlando Magic.
Friday’s Pelicans-Heat game will be played in Miami, where the Heat will try to avoid starting the season 0-2. It will be the home opener for the Heat, who concluded their 2019-20 season on Oct. 11 with a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals.
“We have to be more precise,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about his team’s 22 turnovers against Orlando. “Our spacing has to be a lot better, and we have to be willing to work the offense.”
The turnovers came primarily from Bam Adebayo (seven), Jimmy Butler (six) and Tyler Herro (four).
But Adebayo (game-high-tying 25 points, game-high-tying 11 rebounds and four assists) and Butler (19 points, seven assists, career-high seven steals) did a lot of good things, too.
“Bam and Jimmy are our leaders,” Spoelstra said. “They were hitting the deck for loose balls in game one of the regular season as if it were Game 6 of the NBA Finals.”
Miami also is led by backup point guard Goran Dragic, who had 20 points and seven assists, continuing his role as super sub.
“I told ‘Spo’ that however he wants to use me, I’m here for the team,” said Dragic, a 2018 All-Star back in his days as a starter. “I’m already feeling comfortable with this (backup) role.”
Added Spoelstra: “It’s a great luxury to have an All-Star such as Goran coming in off the bench, where he is able to protect guys from getting too many minutes and getting worn down.”
New Orleans’ super sub, meanwhile, is J.J. Redick, who had 23 points on Wednesday, shooting 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
As for the Pelicans starters, second-year pro Zion Williamson was brilliant, shooting 7-of-9 from the floor and posting a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. His only blemishes were a game-high-tying six turnovers and a 1-of-4 performance from the foul line.
Williamson played 30 minutes, more than the 27.8 minutes he averaged as a rookie last season. One of his goals this season is to stay healthy and shed the minutes restrictions he played under during his rookie year.
New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram also was stellar on Wednesday, posting 24 points, a game-high 11 assists and three steals.
Ingram deflected any credit and instead focused on how good it is to have the veteran Redick on his side.
“We love how he can shoot the basketball,” Ingram said. “When he’s open, he needs the basketball.”
–Field Level Media
Mission for Pelicans, Heat: Reduce turnovers