If there was one resolution the Miami Heat was required to make, it seemed to be this: find a way to get Goran Dragic going. Then Dragic made it easier for the Heat.
As 2016 opened, the point guard started to get going on his own. In the first seven games of January, Dragic averaged 15.3 points while shooting 53 percent, including 52.4 percent from three-point range.
“I mean, I followed Gogi before I came to the Heat,” Slovenian countryman and current teammate Beno Udrih said. “He was not playing like himself. The last five, six, seven games, he definitely was feeling more comfortable, he looked more like himself.”
Then, at some point during a competitive loss at Golden State, Dragic strained his calf. He has not played in the six games since. The Heat has lost five.
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For all of the fans’ frustration with Dragic’s play earlier this season, it’s hard to ignore the Heat losing its way without him. On Friday in Toronto, Chris Bosh said the Heat had missed Dragic more than it anticipated. Dwyane Wade quipped that he has probably missed Dragic on the court more than Dragic’s Mrs. has missed him at home.
In the six games that Dragic has missed, the Heat has averaged 84.5 points, sinking its seasonal scoring average to 95.3. Miami has shot 43.5 percent from the field, dropping its seasonal shooting percentage to 45.8. It has had 93.3 possessions per 48 minutes, lowering its pace from 94.2, now second-slowest in the NBA, just a snail’s length ahead of Utah.
Think that seems slow? Not as slow as this sidelined stretch has seemed to pass for Dragic.
“That’s why when this injury happened, I was so frustrated: I would not say I finally figured it out, but I finally found myself, and then this,” Dragic said. “But what is helping me a lot, I can see that I can be myself on this team. So when I am coming back, I’m not going to have a lot of problems.”
When will that be? Dragic is shooting for next Friday in Milwaukee, after ruling out Monday in Chicago and Tuesday in Brooklyn, games for which Udrih (sore neck) could be ready to step in. In the interim, he has often felt like staying in the locker room since it torturous to sit close to the action. He has tried to support teammates by pointing out his observations, some of which he can apply upon his return.
“Most of the time, I can see, like, [Bosh] doesn’t get so many open shots anymore,” Dragic said. “I don’t know why, but we don’t make that pass back. [On Friday], and especially in the last quarter, when [Raptors center] Jonas Valanciunas was on CB, when we drive a couple of times, Valenciunas, he’s going to stop the ball and CB was wide open. When you make that play, the game is much easier, because everybody then is inside the paint. And of course the person handling the ball needs to be aggressive to achieve that.”
So he promises to be “more aggressive than I was, but at the same time, I still need to get everybody involved. The main thing for us, when I come back, I think we’re not organized well, and sometimes we are going too slow into the offense. It’s like we run an action with 15, 14 seconds on the clock, and then of course we put ourselves into a tough situation.”
The Heat has actually been decent in these spots. It takes the sixth-most shots per game in what NBA.com classifies as “late” situations (four to seven seconds left on the shot clock), and has shot the ninth-highest percentage. (Miami is middle of the pack in “very late” situations, with less than four seconds on the shot clock.) But Dragic’s logic makes sense.
“I think if you get the ball, and you go faster to the halfcourt, let’s say it’s 21 seconds, and you run the action,” Dragic said. “That gives you six, seven seconds. And then if the first action doesn’t work, then you go to the second situation, the third one. I think that is really important for us. Especially if the offense is not going. I think [Monday], we didn’t even score on the fast break.”
Just two points.
“I think we are at our best when we do everything,” Dragic said. “When we play solid defense, when we play 5 on 5, and when you also have easy layups in transition.”
And, contrary to earlier criticism, the Heat is at its best with him on the floor.