Goran Dragic said he feels “awesome” now.
The flu bug that kept him in bed a couple days and cost him valuable minutes with the starting lineup in Miami’s final preseason game last Friday is completely gone. His conditioning, he says, is also no longer an issue.
Now, the Heat’s $86-million point guard wants to start feeling better about something else — the way he’s steering the Heat offense.
At times this preseason, it’s been tricky for him to figure out when to push the gas pedal and when to coast, when to attack and when to pull back, and most importantly when to share.
With the season set to begin Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena against the Charlotte Hornets, all of that will have to be tinkered with and continued to be learned on the fly.
“I think for Goran, it’s kind of a different atmosphere,” said Chris Bosh, who is hoping he and Dragic become one of the best pick-and-roll combos in the NBA.
“No offense to the teams he played with before, but I feel we have a different agenda here. The things we’re trying to do here is win a lot of games and play until the spring and win and win and win. And that requires a certain type of play. He’s used to being ball dominant just like I was coming from Toronto. And that can be very, very difficult getting the team concept down and maybe sharing a little bit more than he’s used to. But he’ll get it down. I think once he gets it down we’ll be pretty dangerous.”
Used to playing at a faster tempo in Phoenix (the Suns ranked third in number of possessions per 48 minutes last season), Dragic said there have been times this preseason that he’s pushed the ball at coach Erik Spoelstra’s request and found himself alone. It’s just part of the melding process, he says.
“Different speed,” Dragic said. “That’s why it’s a unique situation. I have to see how the game is going, see how the players are feeling and the situation we’re in. Sometimes we’re going to run, sometimes we’re going to slow it down, try to play plays. We’ll see. Those are just reads I have to make [better].”
One of the slowest teams in the league last season, the Heat ranked dead last in pace (91.85 possessions) before acquiring Dragic. After his arrival on Feb. 21, they jumped up to 22nd in the league (95.39). This preseason, Miami’s starters were ranked 17th in pace (99.82).
But a lot of those possessions didn’t always end with gratifying results. There were turnovers, rushed shots and dissatisfaction. Bosh and veteran Dwyane Wade have been adamant in using the word sacrifice lately, something they used frequently in the LeBron James era when each superstar had to learn how to be less independent with the basketball and share more.
“It’s two-fold,” Spoelstra said. “You have to sacrifice, but you have to also be willing to serve. How can you help your teammate? How can you make it easier for your teammate? Most guys understand that.
“Dwyane and CB understand that at the highest level, that it takes doing both of those things to ultimately get what you want. The starting lineup has a great approach about it. That’s why I’m encouraged.”
Dragic is, too. He said he knows where and when his teammates want the ball. It’s simply perfecting timing and execution. In practice, the Heat’s starting five has looked a lot better than it has in games, Spoelstra said. Of course practice is one thing; games are another.
“Everybody knows how to play,” Dragic said. “I don't expect major, major problems. Of course it’s never easy. It’s going to depend on how we talk, develop and try to fix those things as quick as possible.
“There’s a lot of players who can put numbers up in this offense. Now, we have to develop that chemistry where we’re going to play as a unit. Some numbers are going to go down, but that’s normal. We want to win championships. That’s a sacrifice you need to do for your team.”
▪ Swingman James Ennis (ring finger) returned to practice Monday. Veteran Amar’e Stoudemire was the only player who didn’t practice as the Heat training staff continues to give him time off to rest his knees.