[via NBA]

Tensions ‘Heat Up’ for the Pels at The Smoothie King Center

07:00 February 24, 2024
By: Kaitlin Lowe

Why Can't The Pelicans Seem To Beat The Heat?

While the Pelicans bounced back strongly from the All-Star Break with a massive win over the Houston Rockets in the Smoothie King Center on Thursday, February 23, Friday night brought a whole different challenge.

The following night, the Pelicans faced off against the Miami Heat. Despite the Heat's record being below the Pels' heading into the game, the Pelicans knew they faced an uphill battle as the Heat had swept this series over the past three seasons.

When asked what the Pelicans could do to adapt to this opponent and change the narrative, Coach Green mentioned they would have to match the mental toughness of the Heat, yet didn't elaborate on any specific strategies to do so.

Both teams are vying to avoid the Play-Ins this season and are seeking any opportunity to win. Additionally, the Heat came into this game as the only team with four players averaging over 20 ppg, while the Pelicans were missing Brandon Ingram from their lineup for the second consecutive night due to a non-COVID-related illness.

The Pelicans struggled early in the game, allowing the Heat to establish a lead of as much as 20 points. After regrouping, the Pelicans mounted a tough run, bringing the game to a 58-58 tie at halftime.

In the first half, CJ McCollum left the game due to a left ankle injury and did not return. There is currently no update on his condition.

From Ball—To Brawl

[via Bally Sports]

The third and fourth quarters presented a close game, with both teams becoming increasingly aggressive. Early in the fourth quarter, tension erupted into chaos in the arena.

Zion Williamson experienced a hard fall from a layup with no foul called, and it appeared that the Heat's Kevin Love was attempting to prevent Williamson from hitting the ground (later described by Coach Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler, and Zion Williamson himself). However, moments later, Naji Marshall and Jimmy Butler became physical over the call. Butler shoved Marshall and grabbed his neck, prompting Marshall to react in kind. This altercation escalated, involving most players and requiring security intervention. Hawkins pulled Marshall away from the action after Butler and Marshall tried to go at it multiple times.

As things calmed down, a second altercation between Jose Alvarado and Thomas Bryant broke out, sparking another fight, with some fans even becoming involved.

The fans in the Smoothie King Center, including a surprising number of Heat fans, supported their respective teams with chants and boos. One Pelicans fan threw a cup at Bryant, while a Heat fan was escorted out by security for aggressive behavior.

The conflict resulted in ejections for Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall, Jimmy Butler, and Thomas Bryant, with Alvarado and Butler making their exits amidst the audience's reaction.

"First of all, I don't think I should have been ejected from the game," said Butler. "But New Orleans got lucky. I would've given it to them during the fourth quarter."

When asked about the actual play, the Pelicans expressed concerns about Williamson not receiving fair treatment from the referees. Overall, this game was the most intense seen in the SKC this season, resembling the emotions of a playoff game.

"It's just fierce competition and people riding for their teammates. They're my dogs, the love is real," said Williamson regarding his teammates stepping in to protect him.

[via Bally Sports Broadcast]

Regarding the altercation, Coach Green commented, "It was two competitive teams that wanted to win, and sometimes you are going to have things like that happen." Coach Spoelstra agreed that this high level of competitiveness is "what the players want, and what the fans want."

With the Pelicans missing key players in the fourth quarter without Ingram, McCollum, Marshall, or Alvarado, Bam Adebayo led the Heat to victory. Notably, the Pelicans' scoring dropped significantly, with only four points scored in the last eight minutes.

New NBA Rivalry?

This game marks the seventh consecutive loss for the Pelicans against the Heat.

"The [Pelicans] are a great team, one that clearly brings out the best in us," said Tyler Herro regarding their success against the Pelicans.

While Coach Spoelstra explained that every season and game is different, and therefore there isn't a certain factor, Jimmy Butler had a slightly different take.

Known to react well when provoked, Where Y'at asked Butler if he'd carry this sense of tension into the next game against the Pelicans. Butler responded, "Sure, we'll beat them the next time, too. We're just a better team. I'm not going to say that they're not a good team, but I don't think this really matters. I think that when we get them on our home court it's going to be a different game. I hope that they're healthy, and it's going to be the same outcome."

While "a better team" was a bold statement, there's nothing better than a little rivalry to see what teams can do under pressure. The bottom line is, the Pelicans may be the better team fundamentally, yet this game showed a lack of urgency under the pressure of high-intensity games.

Don't know about y'all, but we can't wait for the rematch.

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