The first game on the busy 2015 Christmas schedule is between one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA this season, the New Orleans Pelicans, coming to play with one that’s doing more or less as expected, the Miami Heat.
The Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during the offseason to carry the momentum of the team’s first playoff experience since Chris Paul left, while turning Anthony Davis into an even better player. The results so far haven’t been up to their aspirations, going only 9-19. The offense is a top 10 offense (103 points per 100 possessions), but defensively, only the Los Angeles Lakers give up more points per possession. Yes, even the 1-29 Philadelphia 76ers are harder to score against.
Davis hasn’t been standing out among the NBA’s elite either. His 23.4 points with 10.8 rebounds is impressive, but not different from last year. The threat of turning him into a 3-point shooting machine hasn’t exactly been true. Davis is taking 1.7 shots per game with 30.2% success, but he’s not exactly the perfect combination of a low post big man and a stretch ‘4’ nightmare for defenses. He’s a very good player, on a team not good enough to complement him.
But the Pelicans have won their last two games against Denver and Portland while scoring 122.5 points and shooting 52.1% from the field. They’re trying to win three games in a row for only the second time this season and maybe, finally generate some momentum that will put them in the postseason picture. One problem is they’re on the road (3-13 this season), and still haven’t beaten an Eastern conference team when playing away from home.
The 16-11 aren’t exactly hot, losing two of the last three. They seem to be counting on the team’s impressive run during Christmas games, which includes Dwyane Wade winning nine of his 10 games during the league’s special day, averaging 25.1 points per game, although he’s scoring 18.5 per game this season, which makes sense considering he has more players to share the ball around him, and the work of age on his body and especially his knees.
The Heat have one of the best defenses in the NBA, holding teams to just 98.5 points per 100 possessions and keep teams on just 42.8% from the field, although that didn’t show in their most recent loss to Detroit, which included losing an 18-point lead. The Heat’s biggest problem might be not having Goran Dragic on the floor due to a thumb injury, but he might not want to miss out on the special occasion, which he hasn’t had a chance to be a part of in his NBA career.
Prediction: With Dragic or without him, the Heat are a good team, probably better than the Pelicans. With New Orleans not showing anything special this season, it’s not going to suddenly click for them away from home in Miami. Wade is probably going to enjoy another Christmas victory.