CHICAGO – Was the wear and tear of nearly 40 minutes per game taking a toll on Goran Dragic late in games?
The Heat has begun implementing a strategy to get Dragic some rest early in games in order to keep its veteran point guard fresh for the home stretch.
It paid off again during Sunday’s 100-93 win over the Bulls – the Heat’s third in a row – as Dragic scored 14 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter.
"I’m doing it right now," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Sunday’s game. "It’s worked out. I’ll continue to do it. If I have to adjust and adapt, I’ll do that as well."
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Dragic was subbed out for Tyler Johnson with 4:56 left in the first quarter on Sunday. He went back in with 6:39 left in second quarter as the Heat scored 38 in that period to overcome a miserable seven-point first.
After starting the second half, Dragic subbed out with 5:36 left in the third and came back at the 1:34 mark. He closed out game along with four of the Heat’s reserves that keyed a 36-point fourth quarter to pull away from the Bulls.
On Sunday, the Heat’s bench came up huge scoring 54 of the team’s points. Johnson was one of the four other players that played the entire final period with Dragic and recognized the value of having him maximizing the time he’s on the court even if his minutes are slightly scaled back.
"That’s what I’m coming in to do," Johnson said. "[Dragic] plays so hard what we don’t want is for him to be out there and feel like he has to save it for anything or coast for a certain period of time. He’s able to play as hard as he can and get us off to a great start and then let the bench do what we do."
Dragic shot 7 of 11 from the field in 33 minutes and 41 seconds on Sunday.
Spoelstra said after Saturday’s practice in Chicago that he didn’t like that the 31-year old Dragic, who had a busy offseason leading Slovenia to the Eurobasket championship, played almost 40 minutes per game for a series of games, which was not what he wanted at this point in the season.
"Every time I looked down his minutes were 36, 37, 38, that’s not where I want them right now," Spoelstra said. "If we play him big minutes in the first half and the game really gets competitive in the fourth quarter then it’s tough to take him out. But even then I want to be more disciplined of getting him, regardless of what happens in the fourth quarter, two or three minutes of a rest in that fourth."
Entering Sunday’s game, Dragic had only played less than 30 minutes in a game this season in the Heat’s 120-95 loss to the Pacers on Nov. 19.
On Saturday even before his clutch performance against the Bulls, Dragic said he had been feeling fresher over the previous two games.
"I even talked to Spo, I came to him and I told him maybe we should get back to that last year maybe playing first four minutes, get out and then maybe come in with the second unit just to break up a little bit those minutes to get some rest," Dragic said. "It feels like I’m more fresh especially in the second half, in the fourth quarter…whatever the team needs."