Heat push past Pelicans, 111-98, with Butler lost for second half

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The day began with New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy sympathizing for Erik Spoelstra spending Christmas morning away from his two young sons.

He should have known better.

Few do Christmas better than the Miami Heat coach.

With Friday’s 111-98 victory in the Heat’s home opener at AmericanAirlines Arena, Spoelstra improved to 8-0 on Christmas Day, tying the record of Les Harrison for the most wins on the holiday without a loss.

With Duncan Robinson doing damage early from the 3-point line, and with Goran Dragic playing as closer, the Heat were able to overcome Jimmy Butler’s second-half injury absence to even their record at 1-1 after Wednesday’s season-opening loss in Orlando.

A game after posting uncharacteristic low totals in attempts and conversions in shooting 7 of 20 on 3-pointers in their loss in Orlando, the Heat closed 16 of 37 from beyond the arc.

The Heat trailed by eight early, moved ahead by 23 in the second period, but saw that lead reduced to 66-53 at halftime and then 88-79 entering the fourth quarter.

The Pelicans later closed within six early in the fourth quarter on a JJ Redick 3-pointer, but from there, 3-pointers by Avery Bradley and Tyler Herro pushed the Heat’s lead to 99-87.

The Heat played the second half without Butler, whose right ankle stiffened up after he sprained it in Wednesday night’s season-opening loss in Orlando.

Robinson led the Heat with 23 points, with Dragic adding 18 points and nine assists, and Bam Adebayo scoring 17.

Zion Williamson led the Pelicans with 32 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, with Brandon Ingram adding 28 points.

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Five Degrees of Heat from Friday’s game:

1. Butler back, then not: Butler was in the starting lineup, after previously being listed as questionable due to a sprained right ankle, but lasted only the first half. He played 16 minutes, closing then opening two periods with six rebounds, five assists and four points, on 2-of-7 shooting.

Butler twisted the ankle in Wednesday night’s loss, playing through the injury and closing with 19 points, seven assists and a career-high seven steals in a team-high 35:42.

“We have enough veteran experience and enough guys to get the job done,” Spoelstra said of closing without Butler.

The Heat now have three days off before back-to-back home games Tuesday and Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

2. Going big: Spoelstra moved to a bigger lineup to match up against the Pelicans’ starting power rotation of Williamson and Steven Adams.

That had Meyers Leonard, who was held out Wednesday, opening at center, with Adebayo shifting to power forward. Leonard started 49 games last season.

Rounding out Friday’s Heat first five were Herro, Butler and Robinson.

They were followed off the bench by Dragic, Precious Achiuwa, Andre Iguodala and Bradley, who did not play in the opener.

That shuffled Moe Harkless, Kelly Olynyk and Kendrick Nunn out of the rotation, until Harkless, who started Wednesday’s opener, entered with 5:12 left in the third period, with Butler out of the mix at that point.

3. Robinson’s roll: Robinson shot 4 of 5 on 3-pointers in the first quarter, doing it both in the half court and in transition, part of the Heat’s 7 of 12 first quarter on 3-pointers, which helped them overcome an early eight-point deficit and move to a 29-26 lead entering the second period.

Robinson then moved to 6 of 8 3s by the intermission, the most 3-pointers in a half on Christmas Day.

The Heat kept going from there, up to 13 of 21 by the intermission.

The Heat’s 13 first-half 3s also were a Christmas Day record.

The Heat, though, then did not record their lone 3-pointer of the third period until a Robinson conversion with 48 seconds left in the period, which tied Robinson for the Christmas record of seven 3-pointers.

4. Dragic in rhythm: Dragic made another statement in his candidacy for the Sixth Man Award, this time loading up with assists early, including alley-oops to Adebayo and Precious Achiuwa.

Dragic and Adebayo accounted for almost the entire Heat productivity from the foul line, both playing in attack mode.

5. Williamson a load: Williamson recorded his second double-double of the season in as many games, as many as he had his entire injury-limited rookie season. He reached his double-double with 7:03 left in the third period.

Friday’s first half marked the first time Williamson played at least 20 minutes in a half in his career, having been under time restrictions last season while playing under Alvin Gentry.

Of players 20 or younger, only LeBron James (34 in 2003) has scored more on Christmas.

“He just has a super unique, uncommon power and finesse and touch to his game,” Spoelstra said.