Observations and other notes of interest from Friday’s 111-98 victory over the Pelicans at AmericanAirlines Arena:
— The Jimmy Butler ankle situation is real.
— Fortunately, there are now three days off before the back-to-back home games Tuesday and Wednesday against the Bucks.
— Ankle stiffness kept him out of Friday’s second half.
— His absence leaves the Heat not only exposed defensively on the perimeter, but also ups the pressure offensively for Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic.
— And, no, Max Strus was not active.
— This time, Avery Bradley and Dragic played as the closers.
— Forget about the shooting background or lack of one in the void of fans.
— The Heat felt right at home at AmericanAirlines Arena when it came to shooting 3-pointers in the first half.
— Particularly Duncan Robinson.
— Then the third period came.
— And the Heat only converted one in the quarter.
— But Bradley and Tyler Herro stepped up with late 3-pointers when needed.
— With Goran Dragic taking on the road of closer.
— Zion Williamson? Still a load in the paint with that SpongeBob build of his.
— Defensively, that’s a different story.
— Williamson played 20:53 in the first half.
— The first time in his career he went more than 20 minutes in a half.
— After opening Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Magic with Maurice Harkless at power forward, this Heat this time went with a bigger first five.
— That had Meyers Leonard, who did not play in the loss in Orlando, opening at center, with Bam Adebayo shifted to power forward.
— Harkless struggled with foul trouble when given the opening assignment against Williamson in the preseason.
— Rounding out Friday’s opening lineup were Butler, Tyler Herro and Robinson.
— Asked pregame about possible lineup adjustments based on opponents, coach Erik Spoelstra said, “Well, each year your team is different and you have to be open to all the possibilities.”
— Dragic entered as the Heat’s sixth man.
— And then Andre Iguodala, Precious Achiuwa and Avery Bradley in the Heat next substitutions.
— Iguodala then started the second half in place of Butler.
— Leonard launched a pair of early 3-pointers, including a conversion from 27 feet.
— But the rebounding from Leonard remains somewhat lacking.
— Of his team supplying their own energy in the void of fans, Spoelstra said, “I think your connection, your team energy, your team spirit, all of that really matters. I think it always matters. In the NBA season, it matters even more. And the enthusiasm, the energy for each other, the spirit, your ability to cheer for each other, and ultimately enjoy each others’ success, it’s important.”
— Spoelstra added, “When you don’t have 20,000 fans here, you have to bring your own energy. Our guys have great enthusiasm to compete and play this game. The environment is a little bit different, and I think our guys have been terrific with that.”
— The Heat added team-logo tarps since the preseason that cover the lower seats.
— Of Stan Van Gundy stepping back into coaching with the Pelicans, Spoelstra said, “I just think he’s one of the best teachers in this game, and a great leader for an organization. You know that team, they’re going to be prepared and they’re going to get better, they’re going to be held accountable. They’re going to build the right habits.”
— Spoelstra added, “I just think it’s a tremendous fit, for the organization, for the young players, to try to bring out the best in them. And to be able to coach a team where they also wanted to be about now.”
— Of working on Christmas, Van Gundy said he empathized most for Spoelstra, “I think it’s even harder on Erik, to be quite honest, today, even though he’s at home and will see his family later. He’s got young kids, and Christmas is always a lot of fun with young kids. He missed Christmas morning; he’ll get Christmas evening. I’m just really happy for him and where he’s at. I mean, he’s not only had a great career, now he’s got a great family and is in really good place. He’s a great person. I’m really happy.”
— Spoelstra had plenty to say pregame about Williamson, “He just has a super unique, uncommon power and finesse and touch to his game. So he can play physical and bully you in the paint. He can also elevate over where anybody else can get to, and then if you do find a way to cut off either of those things, he has great touch around the rim.”
— Spoelstra continued, “A lot of those instincts around the rim, you can’t teach. He really is a special talent.”
— Van Gundy, on a season with such limited practice time, “Look, I mean, it’s just going to require a great deal of focus in everything you do, every repetition you take. You know, games are practice, too. You should be getting better as games are going on, if you have a focus.”
— He added, “All of us would probably like to get more practice time. It’s not there. And so you’ve got to get better in games, you’ve got to get better in walkthroughs. You’ve got to get better in everything you do.”
— Van Gundy, on stepping back into coaching, “I missed the teaching. I missed getting out there. Teaching, trying to put things together, trying to help people get better, trying to make our team better. It’s crazy, we haven’t even been together three weeks yet. So we’re really a short time into this. We started practice Dec. 6. That’s the first time I even talked to them as a group and here we are 19 days later, playing a game in Christmas Day.”