The long wait appears to be over for Goran Dragic.
The Miami Heat point guard went through a full practice Thursday at the Milwaukee Bucks’ training center and is expected to return from a strained calf Friday night when Miami aims for a third consecutive road win.
“He went [in practice] the last few days with the idea that he’s going to play,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the team landed in Milwaukee and went straight to practice. “It’s getting better each day, so all indicators are that he’s headed in the right direction for [Friday] night.”
Dragic has missed the past eight games since apparently sustaining the injury in a Jan. 11 loss at Golden State. He has been pushing to get back on the court since, at times frustrated by the process.
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“This is the longest I’ve been out in my whole NBA career,” Dragic said. “Even Europe. It’s not fun. You want to get back on the floor and help your team. But at the same time you have to work twice as hard when you’re hurt to try to get back. But now that it’s over, hopefully I did everything right.”
Spoelstra said Tuesday night in Brooklyn that he figuratively had to put a straitjacket on Dragic, who badly wanted to play in the Heat’s 102-98 victory over the Nets.
“It’s really hard,” Dragic said of missing games. “But calf injuries are tough. The doctor mentioned to me when I got to Miami for the first treatment, he checked my leg and said, ‘You’re probably going to feel OK in five days, but it’s still not going to be healed.’ ”
The Heat seems reasonably sure that Dragic should not suffer any setbacks. He has completed two full practices with no pain or tightness.
The news doesn’t seem as positive for center Hassan Whiteside. The NBA’s leading shot-blocker only went through about half of Thursday’s practice and said he still feels the strained oblique muscle when running. Twisting — a necessary component to defending the post and rebounding — still bothers Whiteside. He tried to be optimistic.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
Forward Josh McRoberts returned to practice. Spoelstra wouldn’t commit to McRoberts playing Friday. The veteran big man has been out since Dec. 9, missing 26 games with a knee injury.
Pat Riley was honored Thursday night in Hollywood as an American Icon, an award previously given to former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former Lakers great Magic Johnson.
But Riley’s work goes on.
In a brief interview prior to the event at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, the Heat president addressed a number of topics:
▪ On a report, originating from a translation of minority Heat owner Ranaan Katz, that LeBron James asked Riley to fire Erik Spoelstra: “Not from him to me, ever. I’ve been in that situation twice. I left Los Angeles and a lot of stuff followed me out the door to New York. And obviously when I left New York, a lot of stuff followed me down here to Miami. It took about 10 years to sort of get out of that storyline. So a lot of stuff is following him out the door. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s just the nature of it. But as far as that goes, no, he never, ever walked in and said anything.”
▪ On Dwyane Wade: “I’m so proud of him. Every now and then I’ll send him a text. And the subject line, we keep texting back, it’s ‘I’m so proud.’ I’m so proud of Dwyane, and the way he has led, and the fact that he is playing every night. And his leadership, along with Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, has kept us afloat right now during a very trying time.”
▪ On state of the team: “I think we’re right in the middle of the pack. It seems as though there’s one team in the East that might be, not head and shoulders, but better than everybody, that being Cleveland. But I think two to 12 [seeds], it’s going to be a fight.”
Proceeds from the event went to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
▪ Rookie forward Justise Winslow has averaged 9.8 points and 7.5 rebounds over the past four games, logging 149 minutes (37.3 per game). With the Heat getting a bit healthier, those minutes might diminish, but Spoelstra said there are ways for the former Duke star to keep getting playing time. “He just doesn’t have to overthink it,” Spoelstra said. “He just has to be the complete basketball player and make winning plays that’s getting him on the floor. That’s regardless of his age or experience.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Ethan J. Skolnick contributed to this report.