Goran Dragic is happy now.
It’s not that he wasn’t before.
It’s that this Miami Heat team — the one since the All-Star break that races up and down the court at a faster pace (100.38) than Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the one that’s averaging more points (108.1) than the Cavaliers, Clippers, Spurs and all but five NBA teams over its last 10 games — is finally running with him.
He’s no longer alone on the break.
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“I felt like at the beginning of the season I was running, but nobody was next to me,” the Heat’s $85 million point guard said last week before Miami extended its season-long winning streak to five games with three victories in four days over the Suns and 76ers (twice).
“Then, when we found out [Chris Bosh] was out, we went small and we had no choice. We had to adjust ourselves. The Atlanta game [a 115-111 win Feb. 19] — that was the first game that we really ran and we played well.”
The Heat — before the break — ranked next-to-last in pace (94.67) and scoring (96 points per game), and last in field-goal attempts (79.5) per game.
Dragic, who averaged 12.2 points and 5.3 assists before the break, didn’t necessarily hate the way that team played.
He didn’t mind deferring to Bosh and Dwyane Wade if the Heat continued to win. But he was quietly frustrated with himself and his play and the fact the Heat wasn’t running the way he thought they would when he signed a five-year contract last summer. And so, he says, he would go to coach Erik Spoelstra to talk about it.
“I’m that guy that I don’t show that on the outside, especially around the team,” Dragic said of his frustrations. “So I didn’t show that because I didn’t want something negative around the team. Because in the end, I always thought a positive mind is going to help more. Plus, I didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy with my performances. Now, everything has gone in the right direction.
“But it was hard, especially the beginning of the season. You’re alone. No family and you have too much time to think. That was the hardest part.
“I did talk with Spo a lot. I gave him my thoughts. He gave me his thoughts. Of course I understood. He said, ‘Look G, we’ve got CB, D-Wade. Most of the time we cannot play fast pace.’ I told him I completely understand the situation. He said, ‘We’re going to figure it out. Just be open, be there for the team.’ I said, ‘Look, you don’t have to worry about me.’ Of course, probably some fans, they’re going to talk bad. But it’s part of the game. I’m looking at the big picture, not those small pictures like in the past. It’s all about winning.”
I felt like at the beginning of the season I was running, but nobody was next to me. Then, when we found out [Chris Bosh] was out, we went small and we had no choice. We had to adjust ourselves.
The Heat, 8-2 since the break and only a half-game behind the Boston Celtics (38-26) for third place in the Eastern Conference, is not only doing that more now, but the team is also collectively happier.
Dragic, averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and leading the NBA in plus/minus (107) since the break, is hardly alone.
“The biggest thing is everyone is happy,” Wade said Sunday night. “When you have a team and somebody isn’t talking in the locker room because they’re not happy with what their role is, it’s tough at this time of year. But right now everyone is happy with their role. Everyone is happy with their touches, minutes, involvement. I think the change of offense we had to do when Chris went out has been good for this team.”
Nobody is saying Bosh was the problem. Rather, his absence forced the Heat (37-26) to find other ways to fill his shoes. And so far, it has been a fruitful venture.
Miami has played smaller lineups with Luol Deng at power forward (16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds since the break) — and the team’s rebounding numbers have improved (up from 43.1 per game to 44.6).
Center Hassan Whiteside, once a starter, has become an invaluable weapon off the bench and his numbers (18 points, 15.2 rebounds, 4.2 blocks) have flourished as he has run more with Dragic and a younger, more athletic second unit.
Said Dragic: “It’s tough to say that [the loss of Bosh was a blessing in disguise]. I don’t see it that way. I feel like if CB was here we’d still figure out those things for sure. CB is such a great team player. Basically, he was our voice on the floor and he was our guy who gave us our second-chance situations a lot. If you run, CB would trail most of the time and be wide open on those threes. He would fit in this system.”
Even Wade (averaging 22.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5 assists since the break) said playing at this pace feels natural. “Not only are we’re scoring more than 100 points, but it doesn’t even feel like it,” he said. “We’re just playing basketball.”