At times such as these, with eight losses in the past 10 games, you search for any reason for hope.
For the Miami Heat, hope wears No. 7.
No, Goran Dragic hardly was Goran Dragic in Saturday’s return from two months away from game action, but it was a start — even though it wasn’t a start.
Now the question becomes how measured the process will be with the 32-year-old point guard, with the remainder of the season now measured in weeks instead of months.
“It feels good to be back on the floor,” Dragic said of Saturday’s 15 minutes, 52 seconds in the loss to the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Of course, I’d like if the outcome would be different. But for me, it’s just I’m trying to get back. I’m in the first step — I’m back. Now I just need to get stronger and try to be me.”
The sooner, of course, the better.
As the Heat sort through their ballhandling hierarchy, Dragic mostly played off the ball in his first game action since Dec. 10, closing 2 of 6 from the field for four points, without an assist or rebound, but with two turnovers and three fouls.
“I mean, it was different,” said Dragic, who played in a second-unit alignment alongside Dwyane Wade. “D, he was the primary ballhandler. So basically I was more in the corner, where I’m good, because it was my first game, so I’m not going to have the ball in my hands and go a lot.
“I just want to feel it, up and down, and try to battle through screens, try to get that feeling back. So it’s going to take time, but I’m looking forward to those challenges.”
Time, of course, hardly is on the Heat’s side in the muddled race for a final Eastern Conference playoff spot, now with a 26-32 record. In fact, Monday night’s game against the visiting Phoenix Suns practically could stand as must-win, considering the next two are against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
“It’s good to see him back,” Wade said. “Obviously going through his first surgery, it’s tough mentally. But he worked his way back. And it’s going to take him a little while to get back in his groove.
“Just like we’ve done all year, when a guy comes in, we’ve got to figure out a way to all play together. So the most important thing right now is we’re just happy that he’s back. And as he continues to get more comfortable with everything, we’ll figure everything else out.”
A degree of recalibration still will be necessary, with Justise Winslow, who had taken over as starting point guard in place of Dragic, missing Saturday’s loss with left knee soreness. That had Rodney McGruder stepping into the starting lineup against the Pistons, only to be lost for the second half of that game with his knee issues of his own.
For coach Erik Spoelstra, it’s not about where Dragic eventually will settle into the mix, just that he is back in the mix.
“I don’t even care about his performance,” he said. “It just is great to have him back out here. When somebody goes in for surgery, at the time that he did, you think that could be it for the season.
“But he’s back and there’s nothing like real game action. He’s in great shape. But it’s different than game action, and he needs these minutes right now.”
Of when and how the minutes might increase, Dragic said, “I don’t know. That’s about Coach.”
For now, the first 15:52 was an ample starting point.
“It’s first game back, so it doesn’t make sense to go 25, 30 minutes,” Dragic said. “So go step by step. I feel like I broke the ice. I got back. So I’m patient. Of course, I need to get in shape first. I need to get my legs under me.”
The good news was there was no lingering pain after the initial outing. The not-so-good news is the ongoing concern about where this season ultimately takes his team.
“We’ve struggled at home. We need to correct those things,” he said. “For me, it was a little bit different because for two months I was here, I was working here, so I didn’t travel with the team. So it’s just nice to be back with them and try to figure out those things. Nobody said it’s going to be easy. We have to find the solution and be positive.”
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