Miami Heat

Despite latest struggles, Dragic says Heat ‘still in the driver’s seat’ for playoffs

Miami Heat Goran Dragic looks to the basket as Denver Nuggets Mason Plumlee defends in the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida, April 2, 2017.
Miami Heat Goran Dragic looks to the basket as Denver Nuggets Mason Plumlee defends in the second quarter at the AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Florida, April 2, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The pressure to make the postseason is ramping up for the struggling and still Dion Waiters-less Miami Heat, and some experts believe it’s only a matter of time before the Indiana Pacers or Charlotte Hornets move past them for good in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But just because the odds may be stacked against them, Goran Dragic spelled out the Heat’s reality Tuesday after practice.

“We’re not in a hole,” Dragic said. “We’re still in the driver’s seat. We still have destiny in our hands. We just need to take care of business.”

If the Heat (37-40) wins its final five games to close out the season, including Wednesday night’s huge tilt in Charlotte, there aren’t many scenarios where Miami wouldn’t make the playoffs.

Miami owns head-to-head tiebreakers over Indiana and Milwaukee and has a better division record than Atlanta. The only team that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami is Chicago. Where things could complicated are multiple team tiebreakers, but the Heat isn’t worried about that now.

The focus Tuesday afternoon was squarely on righting the ship after back-to-back home losses to the Knicks and Nuggets last weekend. For the Heat, Dragic said, that means getting off to better starts (Miami trailed Denver and New York after the first quarter), playing better defense overall and playing better late in the fourth quarter (each of the Heat’s last three losses have come by four points or less).

One thing we know for sure: starting shooting guard Dion Waiters, out since March 17 with a badly sprained left ankle, will not be around to help the Heat on Wednesday night. He did make the trip to Charlotte and remained behind to continue his rehab.

Waiters, nor starting power forward Luke Babbitt (strained right hip flexor), practiced Tuesday. Babbitt, however, did make the trip to Charlotte.

“[Dion is] just still doing his treatment,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s not going on the trip with us to start. He’s going to continue to work here. There’s no new update right now. So I don’t want to say there is [a chance he joins us on the trip] or not.

“[Luke is] pretty sore, but I’ll have more for you [Wednesday].”

Spoelstra said Monday’s day off allowed players “to come in with a clear head” Tuesday.

“I think it hit a refresh button for a lot of us,” veteran guard Wayne Ellington said. “Coming into today, we all had a lot more energy, a lot more enthusiasm. We were all ready to get at it. We’re excited for this road trip.”

But excitement will only carry the Heat so far.

In Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets failed late game execution once again was an issue for Miami.

The Heat has been the worst clutch shooting team in the league since Waiters was injured on March 17, shooting just 21.1 percent (8 of 38) in four games in which the scoring margin was five points or less with under five minutes to play. If not for Hassan Whiteside’s late tip-in at Detroit, Miami would be 0-4 in clutch situations without Waiters.

Whiteside was critical Sunday of the Heat’s offensive flow against the Nuggets, calling some teammates out for playing hero ball. Tuesday, Dragic and Ellington backed him up.

The Heat (37-40) open a three-game road trip Wednesday night in Charlotte fighting for its playoff lives. April 4, 2017.

“We need to execute more,” Dragic said. “We feel like when we don’t get a trigger, then we have a problem. We need to get a trigger and then from there we need to move the ball. When we do that I feel like [we’re good]. Last game, J-Rich hit that three, JJ hit that one in the corner. We had some good open shots. But it definitely starts with fourth quarter execution. We need to get back to our identity and try to move the ball. Then we’re going to get open shots.”

Said Ellington: “That’s what it is man. [Hero ball is] purely out of guys wanting it so bad. It’s easy to resort to that. We’ve got to stay locked in and continue to execute and make sure we make the right play.”

More importantly, Dragic said, the Heat has to get back to playing great defense.

“It’s not our identity to give up 115, 114, 113 points,” he said. “That’s not us. I think we need to start games better especially in the first quarter. Spo said we usually get the first quarter and have a lead, but we’ve been allowing 30 points a quarter. When you allow that they get confidence and then it’s tough to stop them. We need to start the games better and of course finish the games too.”

COMING UP NEXT

Wednesday: Heat at Hornets

When/where: 7 p.m., Spectum Center, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish)

Series: Heat lead 58-41

Scouting report: The Heat will be well rested having last played on Sunday night while the Hornets will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Charlotte owns the season series lead 2-1 with Miami winning the last meeting 108-101 at home on March 8th.

MANNY NAVARRO

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