The word chemistry has been dropped about as often as any around the Miami Heat this preseason.
Asked to provide a percentage on where he believes that chemistry is for the starting five with a week to go before the regular season, point guard Goran Dragic provided an answer that seems to make a lot of sense considering center Hassan Whiteside practiced with his teammates Tuesday for only the third time since training camp began.
“Off the floor it’s 100 percent,” Dragic said with a chuckle. “But on the floor, I don’t know. I would say 65 to 70 [percent].”
Although coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat is starting to build its “defensive identity” and “starting to be a little more consistent with some of the principles of protecting the paint and rebounding the basketball,” offensively the players are still “trying to get on the same page” by learning how to share the ball and make the game easier for each other.
Counting the roughly 20 minutes it spent on the court together Saturday in Houston, Wednesday’s final home preseason game against Washington will mark only the second time Miami’s starting unit will play together in a game.
Whiteside, who missed Sunday’s game in Atlanta with an ankle injury and finally appears to be past the strained right calf that kept him out for three weeks, said he expects to play against the Wizards.
Dragic hopes to resemble more of the player he was when the Heat acquired him at last year’s trade deadline. Through the first three weeks of the preseason, he has been battling conditioning issues, something he had managed to avoid most of his career because he usually spent his summers playing with the Slovenian national team.
On Tuesday, after nearly all of his teammates had already left practice, Dragic was busy spinning on a stationary bicycle before hitting the court to take three-pointers while drenched in sweat.
“The race [to get ready for the season opener] is every day,” Dragic said. “I’m just trying to get my legs back. Sometimes it’s hard. I play the first two quarters, feel OK. Then I hit the wall in that third or fourth quarter. I just try to build and try to get that conditioning in so I can play the full game.”
Spoelstra said he saw a more explosive Dragic on Saturday in Houston. Eventually, Spoelstra said, Dragic and Dwyane Wade will start to resemble more of the high-octane backcourt they showed flashes of in 24 games last season.
At times this preseason it has been obvious the Heat’s starting backcourt hasn’t been in sync. But Wade said the preseason isn’t a good gauge of that.
“I don’t really look at preseason and say ‘Well, we’re going to do well or we’re going to do awful,’ ” Wade said. “We play together 15 to 18 minutes sometimes, and you’ve got a lot of guys who are in a position in preseason where everybody is trying to find their rhythm, etc. You’ll see as the season goes on.”
Still, Wade ranked third in the NBA last season in usage rate (the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes). He needs the ball in his hands, and getting used to sharing it again like he did with LeBron James for four years is going to be an adjustment. When Dragic came over from Phoenix last season, Chris Bosh was out of the lineup while dealing with blood clots in his lung.
Now, he’s back. And with the emerging Whiteside in the mix, Dragic is trying to figure out how to use all the weapons at his disposal and get them the ball where they want it.
“They’re going to have to play together — just like they were last year,” Spoelstra said when asked if he could set up more scenarios for Wade and Dragic to be on the court at different times. “I thought they were very effective last year. Now, there may be times where they’re not going to be on the floor at the same time. But regardless, we have to be effective with all those different facets.”
Bosh said once Miami’s starting unit adjusts and has more time on the court together, things will fall into place.
“We know how to adjust — we’ve all adjusted before,” Bosh said. “I think we’ll have plenty of times where we’re going to have Dwyane handling it and have Goran handling it. It’s a dynamic thing to have something like that — two guys who can really handle the ball, two good passers and two guys that can force traps.
“We saw a lot of plus signs last year. They automatically had chemistry, just getting each other involved, playing the game together. We’ll continue to get better. Having two good guards is a great plus for us.”