Goran Dragic is ready to put the funny nicknames behind him and get back to running the point for the Miami Heat.
Less than 48 hours after cartoonish-level swelling in his badly bruised right eye socket forced him to miss a crucial game at Indiana, the Heat’s leading scorer and assist man practiced with his teammates Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena and said he expects to be back in the lineup when Miami (32-35) hosts New Orleans on Wednesday night.
Though he says his vision in his right eye is still “a little bit” blurry, Dragic believes it will improve much more by Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. tip off.
“Pain is always there,” said Dragic, who was hurt when he was elbowed in the eye by Toronto’s Cory Joseph early in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over the Raptors. “If you touch it, it’s pain. If I move around the eyebrow a little bit, it hurts. But I mean, I already played with a lot of [other] injuries [when] it was hurting. The main thing is try to open the eye. Now it’s open, so I'm fine for [Wednesday’s game].”
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Still sporting a very visible black and blue shiner on Tuesday, Dragic said he was finally able to begin seeing out of his eye again on Monday afternoon after applying cold water and massaging the eye socket himself for several hours. Dragic, who has busted his lip and had several teeth chipped at various points throughout his career by elbows from opposing players, said he has no plans to wear a face guard on Wednesday.
“I hate those things,” Dragic said. “I have no pads, nothing. I’m not going to wear nothing.”
For days, Dragic’s teammates have been playfully calling him “Rocky” or “Drago,” two characters from the classic Rocky movie series. Dragic said some teammates were even playing the original movie’s theme song Eye of the Tiger for him in the locker room and the team plane.
“To hear him say ‘Cut me’ with his accent was pretty funny,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Dragic said his three-year old son Mateo was initially scared when he saw his father with his eye shut on Monday.
“He didn’t know what was going on,” Dragic said. “My wife [Maja] she just said ‘Are you a basketball player or a boxer?’ When she saw that I was OK, that it was nothing serious, she was good.”
His teammates are certainly glad he’s back.
“It’s very big,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “It’s always big to have your main ball handler out there.”
TOWERS SET TO VISIT
While many expected expected the Pelicans (26-40) to immediately cash in and make a strong playoff push after acquiring DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento a couple days prior to the trade deadline last month, New Orleans has actually lost ground and is just 3-6 since acquiring the three-time All-Star.
In fact, New Orleans has been outscored by 22 in the 163 minutes Cousins and four-time All-Star Anthony Davis have been on the floor together.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Heat guard Dion Waiters said. “You’ve got two dominant forces down there who need the ball. Between them two guys, somebody’s got to make a sacrifice. They’re figuring that out. There’s only one basketball. It just so happens I’m on a team with a bunch of unselfish guys. We don’t really care who gets the ball on this team. We built that chemistry.
“I know them guys are probably close, they talk, they went to the same [college Kentucky] but you still got to build that chemistry on the court. You got to figure out what he likes to do what he don’t like to do. Also he’s got to figure out your game. Once they build that chemistry and one sacrifices for the better of the team that could be a scary team down the line. They’re scary now but it takes time.”
Though the Heat – like most NBA teams – lack the size up front to defend both Cousins (6-11, 270) and Davis (6-10, 252), Miami feels like it can present plenty of problems itself for the Pelicans.
“We’re not going to get too caught up in their front court,” Whiteside said. “It’s a 5-on-5 game. They got to worry about us, too. They got to worry about our guards and what we bring.”
Said Spoelstra: “We are who we are. It’s going to be about whether we can get to our game. That’s what makes competition fun. For fans out there, you have two different kind of teams. Who can get to who more consistently? That will dictate it.”
Wednesday: Pelicans at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m.’ AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Pelicans lead 17-15
Scouting report: New Orleans beat Miami 91-87 at home on Dec. 23. Wednesday’s game will be the second night of a back-to-back for the Pelicans. New Orleans hosts Portland on Tuesday.