Heat-Pelicans NBA Christmas Day takeaways: Miami ruins Zion Williamson's big day despite Jimmy Butler injury

Slashing to the hoop, it's a wondrous open lane.
Down the court he goes, laughing all the way.
Want to win a ring, Miami's spirit's bright,
What fun it is to win and sing a victory song tonight.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
The Miami Heat, they soundly beat the Pelicans today. 

Jimmy Butler logged only 16 minutes in the Christmas Day opener, but Miami had a merry time. New Orleans gift-wrapped far too many open looks for sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, who finished with 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting in the 111-98 win. Butler didn't play in the second half because of right ankle stiffness.

Robinson scored 18 of his points in the first half, all from deep, helping the Heat build a 23-point lead. The Pelicans cut into that lead in the second half, but their halfcourt offense was subpar throughout.

New Orleans' stars, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, did some heavy lifting. Williamson finished with 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting and 14 rebounds in his first Christmas Day game and went 10-for-15 from the free-throw line. Ingram had 28 points on 7-for-17 shooting, including 4-for-8 from deep, and made 10 of his 11 free throw attempts. If not for all the trips to the line and the Pelicans' strong offensive rebounding, this would have been even uglier. 

Goran Dragic came off the bench to score 18 points and dish nine assists in 27 minutes for Miami, shooting 6-for-11 and adding four steals. Fellow reserve Avery Bradley provided 12 points, four assists and lockdown perimeter defense in his Heat debut. New Orleans' second unit was no match for the Heat's whatsoever.  

Here are three takeaways from Miami's victory:

1. Dragon breathes fire  

Dragic is 34 years old and suffered a plantar fascia tear in his left foot in Game 1 of the Finals a couple of months ago. He was not remotely healthy when he returned to play in Game 6. When he re-signed with the Heat in the offseason, it was fair to wonder whether or not he'd be the same sort of force he was in the bubble before the injury. 

The early returns have been extremely positive. He had 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and seven assists in 26 minutes in the season opener against the Orlando Magic, and then he tore the Pelicans apart.

Miami was down by five when Dragic checked in with five and a half minutes left in the first quarter. When he checked out, they were up by 14, and in just nine minutes he had compiled eight points and six assists. 

Just like they did in the playoffs, Dragic and Bam Adebayo's pick-and-roll game was immense. In that dominant stint, the Heat ran the same play three straight times and scored in three different ways: 

Miami's offense lost its rhythm for a bit without Butler in the second half, but it was overall a phenomenal performance. It does not appear that Dragic or the team is about to take a step back.

2. Ingram's degree of difficulty

Here's Ingram bailing the Pelicans out by making a contested pull-up 3 over Adebayo near the end of the first half and beating the buzzer with a similar shot over Moe Harkless at the end of the third:

Here are Ingram's three fancy finishes in a four-minute span before that buzzer-beater: 

This is star stuff. The Pelicans never had much rhythm when Miami's defense was set, and Ingram still had an efficient afternoon. Sometimes, you have to make tough shots and you have to get to the free throw line. (Last season, he only managed 11 free throws in a game eight times. The best way for the reigning Most Improved Player to take another step forward is to raise his free throw rate, especially now that he's money from the line.)

The flip side, though, is that this is hard! It's also a reflection of why New Orleans couldn't score consistently in this game and has some issues to figure out going forward. Defenses are going to continue to collapse on Ingram's drives because they don't respect Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe or Williamson on the perimeter, and Steven Adams is always going to be in the paint. As talented as Ingram is, the Pelicans need to find a way to make things easier for him.  

Related: I wonder if new coach Stan Van Gundy will eventually put JJ Redick in the starting lineup. 

3. Monitoring Miami's machinations 

Speaking of starting lineups, Miami went with an interesting one on Friday: Butler, Tyler Herro, Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Adebayo. Two days earlier, Harkless started in place of Leonard, who did not play a single minute. 

Harkless got nine minutes this time, but might have been a DNP-CD if not for the Butler injury. Leonard played 20 minutes, exactly the amount that Kelly Olynyk played against the Magic. Olynyk didn't see the floor against New Orleans, and neither did Kendrick Nunn, who played eight minutes against Orlando. (This is where it's worth mentioning that Bradley is coming off a hamstring injury and sat out on Wednesday.)

The point here is that coach Erik Spoelstra has a lot of options. Some of these guys bounced in and out of the rotation last season, too, but this is new for Harkless. Based on what we've seen so far, Harkless should not be seen as a Jae Crowder replacement, but rather just another rotation-caliber player whose role will fluctuate as Spoelstra experiments with different looks. 

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MIA -3.5, O/U 221

Season Leaders

points
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Z. Williamson 23.4 PTS, 1.9 AST, 7.9 REB
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Z. Williamson 23.4 PTS, 1.9 AST, 7.9 REB
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B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
assists
headshot-image
L. Ball 12.0 PTS, 4.7 AST, 3.8 REB
headshot-image
L. Ball 12.0 PTS, 4.7 AST, 3.8 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
rebounds
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S. Adams 9.3 PTS, 2.6 AST, 9.1 REB
headshot-image
S. Adams 9.3 PTS, 2.6 AST, 9.1 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo 20.3 PTS, 5.5 AST, 8.9 REB
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@MiamiHEAT via Twitter
December 25, 2020, 7:59 PM

Robinson led the Heat in scoring with 23 points. 18 of those were in the first half. Pelicans cut into a 23-point deficit but Miami held firm despite Jimmy Butler missing the second half with right ankle stiffness.

FINAL SCORE: Heat 111, Pelicans 98

Zion has 29 and 14 but it's not going to be enough.

Bradley gets an and-1 on the break and he can put Miami up by 17 with a free throw.

And that results in Dragic scoring in transition. Heat up 101-87. This one feels over but there's still 4:36 left

Ingram rejects Zion's screen and turns it over driving baseline. I think he wanted a foul

I love Lonzo's game but when he drives the defense knows he's looking to pass, not score

Lonzo gets in the lane, Achiuwa deflects his pass to Zion

Ingram pressured by Iguodala on the perimeter, gets into the middle and misses a midrange pull-up. He can make it, but that's a tough one

Herro makes a nice sidestep 3 after a pump fake ... and then Achiuwa strips Zion on a drive, which isn't easy to do. Ball goes out of bounds off Miami though

Halfway through the fourth, Adams gets a rest. Zion at center again.

And Redick gets Achiuwa up in the air on a pump fake and gets to the line. You know he gets every rookie with that

Miami's suddenly up 11 again

Dragic-Achiuwa PNR, Heat swing it around, Bradley makes a spot-up 3. Pretty stuff

Ball misses a 3 late in the shot clock. Not ideal!

The Heat have awesome defenders, but last year none of those awesome defenders were guards

Man, Bradley just gives Miami something it didn't have last season

Bradley ties up Ingram on a drive. Jump ball.

Dragic-Bradley-Herro-Iguodala-Achiuwa vs. Ball-Redick-Hart-Ingram-Adams

6:50 left in the game.

That's a really rough series of events for New Orleans. Hart picks up the foul

Ingram gets Achiuwa switched onto him, misses a pull-up 3 that would have cut the deficit to three ... and then Dragic gets fouled on a 3!

@PelicansNBA via Twitter
December 25, 2020, 7:24 PM
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