Jimmy Butler set to return as Heat visit Pelicans

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 8:13 AM

The Miami Heat are eager to return to action after entering the All-Star break on a run of six wins in eight games.

Miami will restart with a road game against the surging New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

Jimmy Butler, Miami’s leading scorer, will be back following a three-game absence prompted by a death in his family. Point guard Delon Wright will make his Heat debut after signing last weekend, days after he reached a contract buyout agreement with the Washington Wizards.

Butler averaged 23.2 points and shot 56.3 percent from the field in his last five games before being sidelined.

“He was in a great groove before (leaving),” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’ll be fine. And we need him doing what he does best.”

Wright’s arrival coincides with the absence of guard Terry Rozier, who will miss his third straight game because of a sprained right knee. Rozier traveled with the team and Spoelstra said he could return during the trip.

Wright said it was “a no-brainer” to sign with the Heat even though other teams showed interest.

“This was probably the best opportunity for me to play and help a team reach the Finals,” he said. “If I want to transition in the middle of a season, Miami was probably the best place to do that.”

Spoelstra said signing Wright also was an easy decision for Miami.

“He has a skill set that fits us,” the coach said. “To get someone who has played, is in shape and you can add to your rotation at this time of year without having to make a trade is a big add-on.”

New Orleans picked up in its first game after the break where it left off, routing the visiting Houston Rockets 127-105 on Thursday for its fourth consecutive victory and eighth in nine games.

The Pelicans didn’t need second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who sat out the game with a non-COVID illness. CJ McCollum scored 28 points, Zion Williamson had 27 points and nine assists, Jonas Valanciunas had 20 points and 14 rebounds and three others scored in double figures.

New Orleans continued a recent trend of having Williamson initiate the offense with the expectation that opponents will have to at least double-team him, creating opportunities for his teammates.

“This is what happens when you put the ball in his hands, especially early,” coach Willie Green said. “He’s finding (teammates), and he has moments where he sees something and he likes it and will continue to attack it. When he’s playing like this, he’s tough to stop.”

McCollum took advantage of the focus on stopping Williamson, hitting 11 of 22 shots from the floor. New Orleans improved to 18-1 this season in games when McCollum scored 20 or more points.

“(McCollum) came out and emphasized the importance of attacking the first game of the back-to-back,” said Pelicans guard Herbert Jones, who had 17 points and a career-high seven steals in addition to five rebounds and four assists.

“I think he did a great job setting the tone for the rest of the team to follow.”

–Field Level Media