New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat
Time: 11 AM CT (ESPN)
Spread: MIA -5.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Miami Heat are 16-11 on the season and 12-6 at home where it will host the struggling New Orleans Pelicans in the first of a five-game Christmas day slate.
New Orleans is just 9-19 on the year but does come in riding a two-game win streak.
Even so, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans are still 3.5 games behind the No. 8 team in the West, the Utah Jazz. While it is still early in the season, the Pels need to start turning things around now and prevailing as 5.5 point underdogs to extend the streak to three would be the beginning of that.
The Pelicans most recently knocked off the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers. Neither club in its own right belongs in the postseason, but the Pelicans have to begin with just that: beating the teams it should beat. Do-it-all big man Anthony Davis came through with 28 points in the win over the Blazers, connecting on 12 of 21 from the floor while also collecting 12 rebounds and blocking three shots.
Davis, for his part, has not disappointed this season. The last two games he has scored 27.5 points per game while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking 3.5 shots per game. His shooting is down this season, but he has seen an even bigger role than before, attempting 17.6 shots per night at a 49 percent clip.
The former Kentucky Wildcat has also taken his shot behind the arc where he is connecting on 30.2 percent of his threes this year, averaging 0.5 threes per game. In the win over Denver on Dec 20, Davis scored 27 points in 20 minutes while blocking four shots, and his PER of 25.12 attests to how good he has been, even if the Pelicans have not exactly all gone with him.
New Orleans has got strong play from power forward Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 17.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.00 steals/blocks per game in 31.7 minutes a night. Tyreke Evans has done well since returning from injury and is averaging 16.4 points through 11 games (all starts).
Shooting guard Eric Gordon has had to function as a point guard often this season, but he has done reasonably well in helping Evans in that role. Gordon and Evans combine to average 9.4 assists per game, which is helping to offset the fact that the Pelicans are still really without a full strength floor general.
True Holiday and Ish Smith both average four assists per game, but each do it in under 23 minutes a night. The Pelicans would like to see Holiday back in full form, but he is starting to show signs that it is happening. Over his past five games, Holiday has averaged 17.6 points, four assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three.
Getting Jrue back to his All-Star form may be a season-long goal, but if the Pelicans are to emerge as a postseason threat it is going to require more than just strong play from Davis and its intermediate ball handlers. Holiday at his best is superb, and the signs are there that he will reach that level of play this season eventually.
The Heat have mostly been getting it done with really tough defense, but the team does sport some depth and balance. Dwyane Wade may be in the twilight years of his impressive career, but he still leads the Heat in scoring at 18.5 points per game while posting a PER of 21.1.
Forward Chris Bosh is second on the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, and he has shown few signs of slowing down after having suffered a lung clot last season that held him out of the last half of the year and kept Miami out of the postseason as a consequence.
The Heat have center Hassan Whiteside leading the league in shot blocking at four swats per game, but the talented young center will be a free agent this summer and is currently making less than one million for the year. That will make getting proper trade for him difficult if the Heat want to use his services to bring in someone like Dwight Howard.
With Wade and Bosh both getting up in years, the Heat may seek to try to provide the tandem with the chance to win one more ring before it is all said and done. Goran Dragic and Luol Deng are both advanced in age, and the pair has more than shown signs of its aging.
Newly inked to a max-deal, Dragic is not shooting the ball well, hitting just 43.7 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from three-point range. Miami has not been all that strong offensively, but the team is made for postseason success, perhaps with some tweaking. Goran comes in nursing a hand injury but is expected to play.