Heat Check

Fresh off gold-medal winning, MVP performance Goran Dragic ready to lead Heat

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic looks on during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic looks on during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

After leading Slovenia to the EuroBasket championship last week and celebrating arguably his grandest achievement as a basketball player, Goran Dragic said he’ll be back in South Florida Sunday and fresh and ready to go when the Miami Heat open training camp next Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University.

“If you ask me I can start practicing twice a day,” Dragic said by phone Friday afteroon from his home in Slovenia. “I have enough strength left. The last few days I’ve had off. I didn’t even run. I think I’m going to be fresh in training camp.”

Driven by the decision he made that this was going to be his last international competition, Dragic, 31, led Slovenia to a perfect 9-0 record in the tournament and was named MVP after he averaged a team-high 22.6 points on 48.2 percent shooting and 5.1 assists during the championship run.

He averaged 27.8 minutes per game during the tournament and dominated before he was forced to watch the final minutes of Sunday’s championship game win over Serbia from the bench due to cramps. He still finished with 35 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the final.

Dragic said the fact he cramped up in the final was “nothing to worry about.” Heat team president Pat Riley said Thursday Dragic could be in line to be eased back into action after his month-and-a-half long run with the national team.

“It was just that part of that game,” he said. “It’s a final game. You put a lot of emotions in. It was a lot of running. It was a lot people switching on me. It was just that part of the game that I had cramps, but nothing serious. I’m fully confident that I’ll be ready for training camp.”

Heat president Pat Riley addressed a bunch of issues at a Friday morning news conference at the American Airlines Arena.

If anything Dragic might be emotionally drained. The FIBA EuroBasket title was the first gold medal in any team sport by Slovenia according to Dragic and 94 percent of the country tuned in to watch final against rival Serbia where Dragic still has family. Dragic said fans waited five hours in the rain for the national team to arrive back home after winning the title and the celebration since has lasted days.

“It was pouring, raining and outside [in the main square] there were 25,000 people with flags and torches,” Dragic said of the championship parade. “It was like a football stadium – unbelievable. In the end, we celebrated together. It was one of the moments every athlete wants to experience.”

The best Slovenia had finished prior to this at the European championships was fourth place back in 2009.

“It was a lot of emotions,” Dragic said. “First of all playing for my national team for the last 12 years, you’re always dreaming to achieve something. As soon as we won the finals, all the burden from my shoulders fell down. I felt so, so happy. Of course on the other side I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia. This was not even a question. I was going to give everything I got to win a title.

“Everybody congratulated me – even on the other team. That's why I have such a huge respect for what Serbia did. They came to the European championships without six or seven of their best players and they made the Finals. It was a lot of emotions, but I’m happy with the win.”

If he learned anything through the experience, Dragic said, it’s how mentally draining a championship run can be – something Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked to him about in the past and reiterated when he went to visit Dragic in Slovenia this summer.

Winning the gold medal, Dragic said, has only made him hungrier for more success now with the Heat.

Dragic said he was thrilled to see the Heat was able to keep the bulk of its team together this summer, re-signing Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Wayne Ellington and then adding a couple new pieces in rookie Bam Adebayo and former Celtics free agent big man Kelly Olynyk.

“I feel like we can do something special that we already demonstrated [going 30-11 in the second half of] last year,” Dragic said. “I'm only hoping this year we’re going to be healthy from the beginning of the season to the end. Then we can show what its like when we’ve got all 12 people and what they can do.”

In his two-plus seasons with the Heat, Dragic has averaged 17.2 points, 5.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds and shot 47.9 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from beyond the arc. Last season, he averaged 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals and shot 40.5 percent from three-point range.

Riley said what Dragic did for the Heat last season was All-Star worthy.

“There’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” he said. “I'm looking forward to coming to Miami and battling for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance – the Slovenian national title team – nobody never gave us a chance. In Miami, I’ve always believed ‘Why not us?’ ”

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