MIAMI — An optional practice session on Sunday and a Monday morning shootaround helped get newly acquired point guard Goran Dragic up to speed.
It paid off as the Miami Heat looked much improved in their 119-108 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.
With Dragic settled in the driver’s seat, the Heat reached their season-high in points and made field goals (46). They also won for the 10th time in 12 games when tallying at least 25 assists, according to the Associated Press.
Dragic recorded his third double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 assists. His 9-for-14 shooting performance, particularly around the basket, boosted his field-goal percentage to 50.1 for the season — first among all qualifying NBA guards.
Not bad for someone who still hasn’t gone through a full practice with the entire team.
"Now I know where to go," Dragic said. "I know a lot of actions. It is a lot easier. The first game is always tough. We had one practice together. They showed me where to be and how to run the team."
Compare that to his Heat debut against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday when he notched just one single assist and went 4-for-11 with 12 points. The expected nerves in his first game, added with the bad news of Chris Bosh’s medical diagnosis that cast a dark shadow over the franchise, clearly affected his play. The disjointed team suffered because of it.
"If you have a little more practice time then you are not thinking, you’re just relaxed and playing your game," Dragic said. "The first game I tried to do too much. Now everything is with the flow."
That was apparent right from the start, with Dragic racking up four assists and six points in the first quarter. He had seven assists by halftime to five different Heat players before letting loose with his own shot by scoring 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the third quarter.
"It is great for us," Dwyane Wade said of Dragic’s inspiring play. "He is giving us a different dynamic. He is making us get out and go. I like it. I think (his pace) is (contagious). When a guy has the ball and he’s pushing it and you want it, you have to get in front of him and with him. He is going to make you get up and go. He doesn’t even look fast when he is running, but he is quick. I think it is good for this team right now. It is giving us a different look."
Another beneficiary of Dragic’s constant activity on offense was Luol Deng, who scored 29 points for a second time against the Sixers — just one point shy of his season high.
"He is a very smart player," Deng said. "We got a lot of points today just from communicating. He has a high IQ for basketball, which will make it easier for everyone."
It wasn’t just on offense where the Heat picked up their game. Playing against a weak opponent, Miami took full advantage of Philadelphia’s miscues to run the floor and quickly score in transition. With Hassan Whiteside helping to control the boards for a dominant 45-33 rebounding margin, Dragic and the Heat dictated the pace and flow of the game.
"Tonight we defended well," Dragic said. "We played good defense inside the paint. When we got the rebounds, then it’s off to the races. We can push the ball, make plays and score a lot of easy points."
Erik Spoelstra has never had a pure point guard in his arsenal quite like Dragic during his coaching tenure in Miami. That may mean as much adjustment for him as it is for his new player, but he’s excited for the possibilities.
"He’s got a battery on him, there’s no question about it," Spoelstra said. "He was very serious with his approach yesterday. He wanted to make sure because the ball was going to be in his hands quite a bit, that he could get the group organized and he knows what our playbook is right now.