Heat starting point guard Goran Dragic returned to practice from a December knee surgery this week to find essentially a new Justise Winslow: a player who has thrived playing 26 games as a starting point guard.
But Dragic, who was inactive for Thursday’s game against the 76ers, made clear Thursday that he’s willing to adjust to accommodate the team’s needs.
“If Justise is going to play on the ball, I can play off the ball,” Dragic said after the team’s shootaround at Temple University, in advance of Thursday night’s game against the 76ers. “We can interchange. As long as we’re winning, that’s the most important thing. We have a lot of guys who can play the same position. That’s coach’s decision. I did it in Phoenix, I did it here. I can play off the ball.”
Reminded that it got a bit awkward at times in Phoenix with three natural point guards (Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas), Dragic reminded that he and Bledsoe played well together and said “that was totally different position. With three, it’s a little bit different [than two point guards]. It’s tough. It definitely helps now that you know what is best for the team. You can play without the ball, with the ball.”
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Dragic, who has missed 39 of the Heat’s past 41 games, loves the Heat’s depth at guard (with himself, Dion Waiters, Winslow and Dwyane Wade) but said: “We need to work on it. We didn’t play a lot of games together. I know what me and Dion did in the past. It’s going to take time. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra made clear that Dragic — who was averaging 15.3 points and 4.9 assists in 14 games — “is not ready to play 32 minutes” but “he will be back soon.”
Asked if he has decided on an eventual starting lineup — when Dragic is ready for his normal minutes — or whether it will be based on player performance in the coming days, Spoelstra cracked, “I may or may not.”
Dragic said he needs to work on his conditioning, but his shot is fine because he was able to do shooting drills in recent weeks. “My shot is where I wanted,” he said.
Spoelstra is encouraged by how Dragic looked at practice the past two days. “I’ve seen the things that can really help our team,” Spoelstra said. “You are talking about an All-tar veteran, a reliable player. We need that.”
Spoelstra downplayed any concern about having too many ball-handlers on the court at once.
“To beat the best teams in the league, you need playmakers, and that’s something at times we’ve lacked this season because of injury and guys being out,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a welcome addition to be able to have guys that can make plays. Guys have really learned how to play off the ball and be effective within the context of the offense. Goran is a guy that can play with or without the ball.”
Winslow, who previously expressed an interest in continuing to start, said that’s not important and he’s happy to do with whatever is asked of him.
Of he and Dragic, Winslow said: “We’re both attacking guards, like to get out in transition and run. That part is going to be natural for us. It’s not the first time me and Goran have played together. We’re both excellent playmakers.”
JONES JR. UPDATE
Derrick Jones Jr., who has missed eight games with a bone bruise in his right knee, was active Thursday.
He said the Heat missed some of Jones’ skills — including offensive rebounding — while he has out.
But asked if Jones simply needs to play in games once fully healthy or whether that would be a game to game decision, he said: “I can’t make decisions as absolutes right now.”
Of Dragic and Jones, Spoelstra said: “I think they need a little bit more work but I’ll have them available [Thursday night]. They came in, before shootaround [Thursday and] had 45 minutes of work, plus shootaround, plus they’re going to work pregame.”
▪ How did Hassan Whiteside react when he heard that 76ers center Joel Embiid would miss Thursday’s game with a knee issue?
“It’s always fun to go against Embiid,” he said.
Boban Marjanovic, who stands 7-3, could start in his place.
“It’s going to be different,” he said. “He’s taller than me and Embiid.”
▪ Power forward Emanuel Terry, signed Thursday to a 10-day contract, spent Thursday with the Heat’s G League team in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but will join the Heat in Miami this weekend.