Barry Jackson

Dragic sees a few advantages in bench role. And Giannis offers high praise for Heat.

Spoelstra on Dragic: “It just is great to have him back out here”

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 119-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, February 23, 2019 in Miami.
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Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to the media after their 119-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, February 23, 2019 in Miami.

Heat guard Goran Dragic, a consummate team player, hasn’t thought about whether this temporary bench role is something that would be appealing to him long-term.

But in the meantime, he sees some advantages to it.

“Advantage is you’re playing more with that second unit,” he said Friday at Fiserv Forum, hours before the Heat’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. “The advantage too is when you come from the bench, most of the time when you come in, the team is in bonus [and gets free throws]. When I was starting and went to the bench, we were not in the bonus.

“You get used to starting so much and when you come from the bench, you play against different guys. When you’re coming from the bench, you have more time to prepare. It’s a little bit easier because when you watch the game, you see what kind of coverage opponents are doing when you’re watching from the bench so you can make a different adjustment.”

Since returning from a knee injury, Dragic entered Friday averaging 15 points on 49.6 percent shooting and 49 percent on threes while coming off the bench, including 22.3 points and 58.5 percent shooting in his past three games.

Dragic, 32, could still be a quality starting point guard for years, but he also has thrived in the bench role the past three weeks. Would being a sixth man long-term appeal to him?

“I don’t know; it’s hard to say right now,” he said. “It’s always an option, of course. I just want to win. That’s what I’m doing right now. But I still feel like I can start a game. Now it makes sense because I’m not capable of playing 35 minutes, 30 minutes a game. [His surgically repaired knee] is not 100 percent.

“Knee is not there yet. In the future, you need to adjust to some things. You play less minutes. That to me doesn’t matter, if you’re coming from the bench, as long as you play. Everybody wants to play. In my case, what’s best for the team, I’m always going to do what’s the best for the team.”

GIANNIS IMPRESSED

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo warns against underestimating the Heat.

“Miami is a great team,” he said last week. “They play hard. They move the ball so well, they play with pace, get open shots and they play well.”

The key against them, he said, is getting out in transition.

“If you play slow to them, they will stop you because they are a great defensive team,” he said. “If you’re able to rebound the ball, run, make plays, get open shots and have a fast-paced offense, it’s harder for them to guard you.”

Dwyane Wade said Antetokounmpo “looks like he lives in the gym. He’s put himself in position to be an MVP candidate.”

INJURY UPDATE

Justise Winslow (bruised right thigh) and Rodney McGruder (left knee soreness) were ruled out for the Bucks game.

Bam Adebayo, who bruised his right hip diving to the floor Wednesday in San Antonio, was removed from the injury list and is playing Friday, coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Spoelstra has spoken of Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside combining to give the Heat some of the best center play in the league.

And consider this: Since Whiteside began coming off the bench on March 4, Adebayo and Whiteside combined for well over 10 points and 10 rebounds in seven of those nine.

On Wednesday against the Spurs, they combined for 18 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists and a block. Other monster games recently: a combined 28 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks at Charlotte; 23, 16, two and one against Detroit; 28, 13 and seven assists against Toronto; 28 points, 18 rebounds, two assists and a block against Cleveland; and 24 points, 22 rebounds, five assists and four blocks against Milwaukee.

Overall in those nine games, they’re combining to average 21.6 points, 16.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 blocks.

“It’s unique because it’s two different dynamics,” Wade said. “Bam brings a different kind of athleticism and motor. Hassan brings a different kind of stature with his length and his height.”

And they haven’t even always combined for 48 minutes, with Kelly Olynyk taking some of the center minutes Monday in Oklahoma City.

But Spoelstra has been disinclined to play Whiteside and Adebayo together.

They have played just 14 minutes together all season, and Miami has been outscored by six in those minutes.

Unless the teams met in the playoffs, Friday’s game would be the final NBA appearance in Milwaukee for Wade, who played college ball at Marquette.

“A lot of great moments for me in Milwaukee,” he said.

Wade, on ballyhooed Murray State guard Ja Morant beating his alma mater Marquette in the NCAA Tournament and also producing the first triple-double by a guard in a tournament game since, coincidentally, Wade: “Not only did they have one of the top picks in the draft, but everyone else played their role to a T.”

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.


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