Goran Dragic missed three consecutive weeks. During that time, the Heat posted a 3-5 record.
But it hasn’t just been a frustrating time for the team, Dragic’s patience has been tested waiting for his swollen right knee to respond to treatment and rest.
“It was frustrating,” said Dragic, who made his return Friday night against the Suns. “Every time when I did something, it swelled up. But finally it’s been calming down. I practiced two, three days straight. The knee reaction was good.”
The Heat’s starting point guard missed eight consecutive games with the injury, but went through shootaround Friday morning in Phoenix and started in the first game of Miami’s six-game trip. He had fluid drained from his right knee more than two weeks ago after an MRI returned negative.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Even with the handful of practices Dragic has been able to get in during his three-week hiatus, he didn’t expect to be 100 percent in his return. In fact, he expected to be on a minutes restriction.
“When you have problems with the knee, you cannot do much,” he said. “I tried to do my treatment. My focus on that, and then it was starting to feel better. I tried to do conditioning. I’m still not there, but I think it’s good enough.
“When the knee swells up, you have a limited range of motion and you cannot move well. So that was my biggest concern. I tried to get that swelling out. I was doing treatments a lot, and the last couple of practices the knee reacted really well. So the range of motion is back.”
That’s all the Heat needs to hear, as its offense has struggled without Dragic. Entering Friday, the Heat had scored 108.4 points per 100 possessions with Dragic on the court as opposed to 101.9 points per 100 possessions when he hasn’t been playing.
While Dragic expects there to be some rust, he also expects to help the Heat immediately, unlike the last time he returned from this injury. A swollen right knee also kept him out for two games in early November, and in his return he was held scoreless for the first time in a Heat uniform during a loss to the Wizards on Nov. 10.
Dragic played in four games after returning from the injury the first time before shutting it down again. This time he took a more methodical approach and missed eight games to allow his knee to heal, which he hopes makes this latest return different.
“I was out for eight games, so I did everything that was in my power and took the time,” Dragic said. “The training staff really helped me with that. That [scoreless] game, I didn’t even have an opportunity to practice and this time I practiced three or four times with the team.”
Remaining patient wasn’t easy for Dragic. But the hope is that it pays off.
“I had to battle myself, because I want to be there. The knee just didn’t allow it to,” he said. “There was a little bit of frustration, But the only thing that I could control was to do fitness every day, try to do everything that the staff was saying. And finally the time came that I could come back.”
Bam and Kelly time
With Heat center Hassan Whiteside unavailable for Friday’s game against the Suns as he awaits the birth of his first child, big men Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk could see more playing time together.
Adebayo and Olynyk have been an effective combination since the start of last season.
Entering Friday, Adebayo and Olynyk have teamed up to form Miami’s top two-man combination with a team-best plus/minus of plus-67 when they are on the court together this season. It’s just a continuation of last season, when the duo finished with a plus/minus of plus-96.
“It’s hard not to,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked if he’s noticed those positive numbers. “They’ve been playing very well together. The second unit has been playing well. They’ve been impacting the game in a positive way. We need more consistent minutes, in particular from our starters.”
Wayne Ellington was not with the team to start the Heat’s six-game trip in Phoenix on Friday due to the death of his grandmother. With the funeral set for Saturday, he will also miss Saturday’s game against the Clippers but could return for Monday’s game against the Lakers in Los Angeles.