Miami Heat

The Miami Heat is in the East’s top 8 despite issues with two of its best players

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic drives against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson in a game earlier this month. Dragic is trying to shake out of a shooting slump.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic drives against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson in a game earlier this month. Dragic is trying to shake out of a shooting slump. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Here’s the glass half-full perspective on the Heat: It’s a notable achievement that Miami enters the weekend holding one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots despite Hassan Whiteside missing 18 games and despite Goran Dragic’s month-long shooting slump.

“It’s great,” Whiteside said Friday of Miami pushing above .500 with him missing more than half of the games. “The guys have really been playing well. Keep pushing, keep passing teams. That’s what it’s about.”

The Heat, which entered Friday’s game against Brooklyn at 18-16, also knows the potential to push a bunch of games above .500 with a healthy Whiteside and a more efficient Dragic.

After ranking third among all point guards in shooting percentage last season (47.5) and getting off to a strong start this season, Dragic has shot just 36.7 percent from the field over his past 12 games and 22.8 percent on threes (8 for 35). He’s averaging just 11.9 points per game during that stretch.

Dragic’s 43.6 shooting percentage for the season would be his lowest since 2010-11 and ranks just 17th among point guards.

Discomfort from an elbow injury has contributed to that recently.

“I mean, every time when you shoot it, it has an impact,” Dragic said of the strained left elbow injury that sidelined him for two games recently. But I think that’s not even the case here. I’m never going to use that as an excuse, so we should close that book.”

Miami Heat's Goran Dragic talks to media after win over Orlando Magic on Dec. 26, 2017.

Dragic watched tape with Heat shooting guard Rob Fodor this week and didn’t notice anything with his mechanics that needs fixing.

“Mechanically, it’s the same,” Dragic said. “Everything is the same. Just maybe some confidence is not there. But it’s the same. Sooner or later, it’s going to go in.”

Dragic typically generates some of his offense with a jump shot around the foul line.

He said defenses aren’t taking that shot away, but “it just hasn’t been there for a few games. When you’re not shooting the ball well, that’s a tough shot. That shot is like a go-to move. But if you miss, that’s a bad shot. So basically you need to feel good to shoot those shots.”

Erik Spoelstra said he isn’t concerned about Dragic’s shooting slump.

“Every player goes through a stretch where you aren’t necessarily shooting the percentage you want to shoot,” Spoelstra said. “What you saw last game was how he can impact the game in so many different ways.

“His energy in the third quarter [against Orlando] is what started the ball rolling in the right direction. Defensively, picking up 94 feet. Aggressive and relentless offensively. He will figure it out. I don’t want to make it more complicated. If anything, I will try to get him more opportunities, see if we can get him some easy ones. Great players figure it out.”

As for Whiteside, he said the bone bruise on his left knee “is a little sore but the pain has subsided substantially.”

Friday was Whiteside’s second game back since missing 13 games with his second bone bruise. “Coach is limiting my minutes but as I get better and back used to the game, that will change,” he said.

Spoelstra said Whiteside is “in fantastic shape. Body fat is in a great place. All the conditioning tests he has passed. [But] it’s different when you go five-on-five. The game goes fast. The game will dictate [his playing time] but I am not in a rush to play him 30 minutes. I want him going as hard as he possibly can.”

INJURY UPDATE

▪ Spoelstra said he did not expect James Johnson (ankle), Dion Waiters (ankle) and Justise Winslow (knee) to play in either of the games of this back-to-back set, including Saturday’s game at Orlando.

▪ Spoelstra is pleased with what he has seen from Michigan undrafted point guard Derek Walton Jr., who has been getting playing time amid injuries to others: “He’s a heady player. He can run your team, knows how to deliver the ball. Some of the clever, savvy passes he makes you can’t teach. You just know he has been the head of the ship many, many years. He’s got a very good future ahead of him.”

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