Ethan J. Skolnick

Ethan J. Skolnick: Heat’s dynamic duo at guard know they must be in sync, play off each other’s strengths

By Ethan J. Skolnick

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic,(7) and teammate Dwyane Wade,(3) talking during the fourth of an NBA basketball game against Los Angeles Lakers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic,(7) and teammate Dwyane Wade,(3) talking during the fourth of an NBA basketball game against Los Angeles Lakers at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. El Nuevo Herald

As scoring point guards proliferated and prospered throughout the NBA, the Heat have had one during Dwyane Wade’s career. That was him. That was in 2003-04, Wade’s rookie season, before he turned into a two-guard for good. Damon Jones, Carlos Arroyo, Rafer Alston, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole got swallowed by his shadow, and even Gary Payton, Mike Bibby and Jason Williams played subordinate roles, diminished by age or subdued by design.

“Oh, and Quinny,” Wade said, laughing.

Can’t forget Wade’s pal Chris Quinn, who made 25 of his 26 career starts during the Heat’s forgettable 2007-08 season.

Now Quinn is a Heat assistant, the gifted Goran Dragic is Miami’s point guard, and optimism abounds about the Heat backcourt; only the champion Warriors also feature starting guards with at least third team All-NBA on their resumes.

Yet, as “D” and “G” — their friendly shorthand for each other — acknowledged in a dual interview, the Wade/Dragic collaboration is an ongoing exercise, simply because it’s nothing like anything either has experienced.

“Totally different,” Wade said. “I’ve never played with an attacking point guard, someone who attacks the way I’m accustomed to. And at the pace that he plays at.”

Dragic nodded. His backcourt partners, in Phoenix and Houston and Phoenix again, have run the gamut, including push-pacing point guards Steve Nash and Eric Bledsoe when Dragic has slid to the other spot. But some haven’t run so fast. None has scored so much as Wade.

“D is the opposite of [Jared] Dudley,” Dragic said, giggling.

Dragic learned that quickly last February, when he was tossed into a playoff chase for a teetering team that, on his arrival day, lost Chris Bosh for the season because of a blood clot. He and Wade tried to come together but came up short, 11-13 in shared games and a minus-2.5 points per 100 possessions, with Wade shooting better without, than with, Dragic on the floor. The primary purpose last season’s stretch run served? Allowing them to establish parameters for how they want to play.

“I told him, ‘D, run with me, you’re gonna get some easy layups,’ ” Dragic said.

That’s the message again, and that transition strategy still requires some transition for Wade, who concedes his “pace is a little slower than Goran.”

“Sometimes I love to come back to the ball because I’m able to slow things down and get guys shots,” Wade continued. “But then I have to realize when Goran is in there sometimes I got to change it, and I got to go up the court. So sometimes, for me, it’s like a switch. I have to tell myself, ‘Oh, Goran’s there, Go!’... And know that if I get out, and I can find a way to get in front of him, I can get the ball pitched up.”

Dragic is happy to start breaks this way, because of Wade’s ability to take on, and split, defenders. But he adds, “It’s both ways. Sometimes he’s going to get the ball, and I need to run.”

Wade also has needed to adjust in the halfcourt. He has been whipsawed, controlling the offense for seven seasons, ceding that to LeBron James for four, taking the reins again when James left.

“Then it was like, Goran’s here, now I got to get back off the ball,” Wade said. “So I had to figure it out.”

One thing they both recognized: If Wade cuts from the weak side while Dragic runs pick-and-roll with someone else, the back door may swing open.

“Yeah, we get one of those a game,” Wade said.

They’re still getting that down. Dragic, while reviewing tape of the preseason loss to Orlando, spotted a few missed chances for feeds for Wade finishes. They continue working on communication (“D said, ‘OK, G, we need to talk more this season,’ ” Dragic said), which is tricky because, as Wade jokes, “He isn’t that good at English yet.” Nor is either very vocal on the court, with Wade preferring to preserve energy.

“We use a lot of pointing,” Wade said.

“No, it’s true,” Dragic said, cackling.

Dragic’s deference comes through during their interaction, whether calling Wade “our main guy,” characterizing his job as “trying to run the team” until “D-Wade time comes,” or promising to “pay attention” to the counsel of a three-time champion. Dragic has been to the postseason just once, never as a starter.

Yet Wade insists that when he sees Dragic’s head and shoulder drop, “I just get out of his way. I want him to be aggressive. I know how good we can be when he is being aggressive. Our job is to try to figure out how we can have him being aggressive more often.”

That’s about more than just them. The team’s talent infusion comes with complications.

“How can we do what we do, but still how can everyone else do what they do?” Wade said. “I kind of figured out how to play with Goran. Now I’m trying to figure out how to play with everyone else with Goran. And I think the same thing with him.”

Even so, both laugh when asked how to include Bosh.

“Chris is going to have more touches than even two guys that have the ball in their hands, more touches to be able to be a scorer than even us,” Wade said. “Because sometimes we’re coming off, and they’re just putting two to the ball … ”

“We’re getting trapped,” Dragic said, finishing Wade’s sentence.

“We’re getting trapped,” Wade said. “And we’ve got to get off of it.”

They sounded in sync as they spoke. They’re working to stay that way when they play.