After the Heat lost at Toronto last Friday, Dwyane Wade told Goran Dragic he probably missed him more than his own wife did.
The Heat had lost five of its previous six games to that point without its starting point guard and was averaging only 84.7 points per game (10 fewer than anybody else in the NBA) and 18.2 turnovers per game (most in the league). And Wade himself had been ailing, the result of sore shoulders.
But fast forward a week, and the Heat and Wade are no longer struggling. Miami has won two in a row. And with backup point guard Beno Udrih healthy again and running the point, Miami has averaged 95.5 points (the Heat was averaging 97.1 before Dragic was hurt) and only 12 turnovers a game (less than 13.7 it averaged before Dragic was hurt).
Wade, meanwhile, has been on a tear. He's averaged 25.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals and shot 50.8 percent of the field over his last three games, the kind of numbers that prove that even at 34 he's still capable of playing at an elite level and worthy of the starting nod he received from fans for the All-Star Game.
So what's going to happen when Dragic likely returns Friday in Milwaukee? The Heat are hoping for more of the good stuff.
"It’ll be a good little jolt of energy," Wade said after Thursday's practice. "But nothing guarantees us anything."
That wasn't a shot at Dragic at all. It was really just honesty from Wade about the state of inconsistency this Heat team has shown throughout the season even when its fully healthy.
You might remember the first month and half to two months of the season when Wade and Dragic never really seemed to be on the same page offensively. Before Christmas, the Heat's starting backcourt was a collective minus-4 on the court together (the sixth best two-man lineup on the team) and the Heat put up only 48.9 points and 10 assists in the 24 minutes they averaged together.
But in the 11 games Wade and Dragic played together beginning with the Christmas Day win over the Pelicans, Wade and Dragic were a collective plus-12 and the Heat averaged 55.1 points and 11.5 assists in the 27.4 minutes they averaged on the court together. So, Wade and Dragic were not only playing better together, but coach Erik Spoelstra was keeping them on the court together more too.
Now the question becomes: Can Wade and Dragic rekindle that recent chemistry again? And, can Dragic get back into the comfort zone he was in collectively with his teammates?
“We’ve got to start from scratch. Not totally from scratch, but kind of from scratch," Chris Bosh said of the Heat's rhythm with Dragic at the point. "He’s going to have to get his feet back under him, but things are going to work. I’ve said that since the beginning of the season. I truly believe that this team is going to be a very good team, if not a great team. That part’s on us. But it’s there for us."
"Right when Goran went down, that was the most [comfortable] he had been playing," he said. "The two of those guys getting on the same page, that was probably the best it’s been. But it took a lot of work to get to that point, and I think they’ll get that back quickly.”
Dragic, who has been focused on his conditioning over the last two full practices he's participated in, said Thursday he expects to jump back in and run the offense just fine. He says he's been "going through the motions" on the sideline even when he hasn't been playing. And he said he's learned from his mistakes earlier in the season. When the time calls for it, Dragic said he knows he has to be aggressive.
“I think my main problem early in the season was that I was trying to get everybody involved and I didn’t play my game," Dragic said. "As soon as I figured out those things – that I can be myself in this offense and play with my teammates – then the offense was great. I still believe that I’m not going to have any problems coming back. I know the team, I know how D-Wade is playing. I don’t see any problems.”
With Dragic out, Wade certainly got to play with the ball in his hands more.
When Dragic was running the point through Jan. 11, Wade was averaging 57.5 touches, 3.7 minutes of possession and 18.5 points per game to Dragic's 80.8 touches, 6.4 minutes of possession and 12.3 points per game. With Dragic out, Wade's touches increased to 66 touches per game (Udrih averaged 75.5), 4.9 minutes of possession (Udrih was 5.5) and 19.5 points per game.
Will Wade be able to slip back into that mode where he's touching the ball less again? As long as he doesn't have to run the point -- as he had to at times with Dragic and Udrih out -- Wade seems fine with it. Plus, he'll get to rest a little more with the added depth in the backcourt.
"It’s going to be great," Wade said. "We get to have our starting point guard back. Who doesn’t want that? He’s someone who can play and score 16-20 points a game when things are right. So I look forward to him coming back out there and getting in the groove.”
Longtime NBA writer Rick Braun attended Thursday's practice in Milwaukee and provided the quotes for this blog. Braun will be covering Friday's game for The Miami Herald.