This would be the night, the night Goran Dragic finally got right.
No Dwyane Wade with whom to take turns in the backcourt, because Wade was absent, attending to his injured son, Zion, in the hospital. No Rudy Gobert, or “Stifle Tower,” to protect the paint, for Utah. No experienced NBA point guard against him, with the Jazz starting Brazilian rookie Raul Neto, backed up by the relatively tiny Trey Burke.
But if we believed that, we were looking at the wrong place. We were looking at the roster, the lineup, the court. We should have been looking at his home.
That has been empty lately, empty as his stat sheet at times, empty as his eyes at others. And while it’s going too far to blame all of his struggles — struggles that continued through some stages of the Heat’s 92-91 victory — on his extended separation from his family, you should have seen those eyes when asked about his pending reunion with them this weekend.
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So maybe now, for Dragic, it will be all right.
“Really excited,” Dragic said. “Really excited. It’s going to be much easier, to go to practice, come back into a full house, I can talk with somebody. I still can talk with the players, but it’s not the same, you know.”
NOT MAKING EXCUSES
It’s not something he has discussed all that much, because he hasn’t wanted to make it sound like he’s making excuses. Many fans wouldn’t want to hear them, not from a franchise point guard, not from someone who just signed a five-year, $85 million contract.
But maybe if more knew. That his wife, Maja, had pregnancy complications this summer. That he hasn’t seen his daughter, Viktoria, since the day after she was born, since he left Slovenia for South Florida to train. That he’s watching his son, Mateo, now 2, grow up on FaceTime for the past three months.
“He says, ‘Hi Daddy,’ ” Dragic said of their FaceTime sessions. “Then he’s off to his races. Then he’s off to his toys.”
Maybe if they knew that, with Viktoria, too young to travel, Goran shopped for their new house himself, waiting for others to fill it.
“I mean, this is my job,” Dragic said. “I’m totally committed, focused. But sometimes ...”
“Sometimes, there’s too much distractions around,” he continued. “It’s tough to just forget about everything and play. Especially in the summer, with the baby, come here, looking for the house, and try to establish with the team. There’s a lot of things going on. But now, I’m at that point, where I made a cross on everything else, and the only thing I’m waiting for is my family, and then I can relax and just play.”
So maybe he will play better.
We know he can play better. Much better.
Two seasons ago with Phoenix, Dragic went a 25-game stretch without scoring fewer than 15 points. Yet he scored fewer than a dozen in six of his eight games entering Friday, and he needed four late free throws — on intentional clock-stopping fouls — just to get to 14 on Thursday.
He has been among the league’s most efficient guards the past two seasons, and yet has shot under 50 percent in six of his nine games.
“I like my shots,” Dragic said. “Just they need to fall in. Even this game, today was a little bit better. I’m getting good looks. Just need to work and try to get out of this shooting slump.”
It’s not just shooting, though. Sometimes, he’s looked cramped, bumping into teammates as if he’s trying to change into a tuxedo in an airplane lavatory. On Thursday, there was one sequence where he was uncharacteristically yelling at teammates to inbounds to him, then missed a jumper on the other end, then took an elbow for a charge.
NOT PLAYING FREE
Little has looked fun, or free, not like it has for Tyler Johnson.
The question is whether the glass of Lasko — a Slovenian brewing staple — should be viewed as half full or half empty. Half full, in the sense that Miami has survived his continued struggle, to get off to a strong start? Or half empty, in the sense that, after a sluggish preseason, he still doesn’t look anything like the dynamo who dashed though the league two seasons ago, earning third team All-NBA honors?
Lean toward the former, because help for his head is on the way.
So how will he greet them?
“I don’t know,” Dragic said, laughing. “It’s going to be spontaneous. If I say something, that I’m going to do that. … It’s just going to happen.”
He snapped his fingers.
So maybe he’ll snap back.
Meanwhile, the Heat keeps winning. So no one is panicking. His family is coming. And maybe, just maybe, Tuesday will be the night that Goran Dragic gets right.