With Chris Bosh out, it usually would be difficult for the Heat to win on a night Dwyane Wade shoots 6 for 17 and commits seven turnovers.
That’s why what Luol Deng and Goran Dragic achieved in Tuesday’s win against Charlotte was so critical, Dragic attacking relentlessly en route to 28 points, Deng chipping in 21 points and six rebounds.
Miami needs more of that multi-pronged scoring in the final four games of its bid for a playoff spot, including Thursday against the visiting Bulls.
It’s no coincidence that when Deng is scoring, the Heat usually thrives. Miami is 11-1 when he scores at least 20.
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“Especially these last couple of games, we’re going to need his scoring, myself and Dragic’s scoring to really give us some good opportunity,” Wade said Wednesday.
Dragic followed Erik Spoelstra’s marching orders Tuesday, with wonderful results.
“He told me he needed me to be more aggressive,” Dragic said. “I did that. Hopefully, I will continue to play like that.”
Dragic took 16 shots ‒ tied for second-most in his 23 games with the Heat. He has launched more than 12 shots only nine times, a modest number in a league where many of the top point guards are high-volume shooters.
Spoelstra likes the balance Dragic has struck but said being more aggressive “doesn’t necessarily mean creating your own shots. This basketball team needs him to be aggressive, needs him to put his foot on the pedal in pick-and-rolls, in transition, create opportunities for us.
“But he’s an efficient player, a smart player. He’s very similar to Dwyane. You just trust that they’ll make the right decisions when the ball is in their hands. Neither one of them are volume shooters.”
Said Dragic: “It’s a new offense. It takes some time to adjust. We are going to try to attack where the defense is weak. And most of the time, D-Wade has the advantage because he’s such a great player. [It’s] a situation of who’s feeling it that night.”
Two of Dragic’s most impressive skills, which go hand-in-hand, are his shooting percentage (best in the league among all guards this season) and his ability to finish at the rim.
He’s shooting 68.2 percent within five feet of the basket, second-best among qualifying guards behind Warriors swingman Andre Iguodola.
Dragic is shooting 50.4 percent overall this season and 51.1 with the Heat. The player closest to Dragic in that statistical category ‒ Clippers guard Chris Paul ‒ is nearly two percentage points behind him at 48.5.
Dragic said when he backed up Steve Nash in Phoenix, watching Nash shoot 50 percent motivated him to achieve that. “That’s my goal,” he said. “Last year, I did it. Hopefully, this year I can.”
As for Deng, there has been a strong correlation between his performance and the Heat’s, perhaps more than any other player.
He has averaged 16.4 points and shot 53.1 percent in Heat wins, just 12.1 points on 42 percent shooting in Heat losses.
And though his shooting percentage has dropped since the All-Star break (48.8 percent before, 45 after), he’s on track to finish with his highest accuracy from the field since 2007-08.
Overall, he’s at 47.5 percent, which ranks sixth among small forwards and represents a sizable jump from the past three seasons: 41.2, 42.6 and 43.1.
“I’m more patient and smarter now and try to stay away from what I can’t do,” Deng said. “I know where my strength is: to move without the ball as much as possible. I used to do a lot of pull-ups twos and threes. Now I do more catch-and-shoots and as many corner threes as I can.”
Deng said he was worried about his knee before an MRI on Monday revealed no structural damage.
Deng said he was diagnosed with “plica buildup. It rubs on my kneecap every time and that creates inflammation. I was having one good game and then swelling again. At least I know what it is. I’m not even close [to 100 percent]. It swells up and it gets tight. Last game I didn’t sit for long, which helps.”
▪ Bulls point guard Derrick Rose returned Wednesday night against Orlando after missing 20 games following right knee surgery and likely will play Thursday against the Heat.
THURSDAY: BULLS AT HEAT
When, where: 8 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV, radio: TNT; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).
Series: Bulls lead 54-44.
Noteworthy: The teams split two previous meetings, the Bulls winning 93-75 on Dec. 14 in Miami and the Heat winning 96-84 on Jan. 25 in Chicago. Hassan Whiteside had 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks in that game. … Bulls point guard Derrick Rose returned Wednesday night against Orlando after missing 20 games following right knee surgery and likely will play Thursday against the Heat. … Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, who had been ill, are expected to be available. … Whiteside said his lacerated hand, which he sustained when he hit the rim two weeks ago in Milwaukee, still causes him pain on dunks and blocked shots and might not feel back to normal for two weeks or slightly longer. “I’m getting used to having a bandage on my hand and playing with three fingers.”