It has been a year full of inconsistencies for the Miami Heat.
There have already been six-game and five-game losing skids for the Heat this season, along with six-game and five-game winning streaks.
Some of that has to do with the uniqueness of this season that’s being played in the middle of a pandemic. But it’s also connected to the various injuries and protocol-related absences the Heat has endured along the way.
“Nothing surprises me anymore, so you just need to be focused on one goal and that’s to do our job,” guard Goran Dragic said in advance of Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena. “It doesn’t matter how hard it is. It’s tough to see players in and out with injuries or protocols and everything, but it’s part of the business right now at this time.”
Dragic, who turns 35 on May 6, has been one of the Heat’s key players who has been in and out of the lineup for a chunk of games mainly because of injuries. He has missed 19 games this season — two because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, three because of a left groin strain, nine because of a sprained left ankle, four because of lower back spasms, and another on the second night of a back-to-back set to rest his lower back a few games after returning from spasms.
“It has been challenging, but, still, you have to continue to fight, try to get better,” Dragic said of his fragmented season. “And as long as we’re winning, I’m fine.”
With the Heat facing the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on Wednesday night, it’s still unclear if the team will again take a cautious approach and rest Dragic on the back end of its back-to-back set.
“We’ll see,” Dragic said Tuesday when asked about his availability for Wednesday’s contest. “We still need to discuss that, so I don’t know. I’m going to be available if he needs me. But I don’t know yet.”
Dragic has actually played well on the second night of back-to-backs. In the four games Dragic has played in coming off of zero days of rest this season, he has averaged 19 points while shooting 44.3 percent from the field, four rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Dragic entered Tuesday averaging 13 points while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 34.6 percent on threes, 3.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 26.6 minutes in 34 games (10 starts) this season. That’s the lowest amount of points and minutes that Dragic has averaged since he was traded to the Heat in February 2015, as he averaged 19.1 points on 44.4 percent shooting in 32.5 minutes in a starting role during last season’s playoff run to the NBA Finals.
Dragic has remained a positive on the court this season through it all, entering Tuesday with a plus/minus of plus-27. The only players on the Heat’s roster with a better plus/minus than Dragic this season are Jimmy Butler (plus-136), Duncan Robinson (plus-54) and Bam Adebayo (plus-51).
“It’s almost close to the end of the season, so we already know what each player brings and what’s their strengths and what’s their weaknesses and how we need to play together,” said Dragic, whose contract includes a $19.5 million team option for next season. “So it doesn’t matter if you start of sometimes you’re coming from the bench. I think that’s just the way it is. You just need to be ready.”
The longest stretch of consecutive games that Dragic has played in so far this season is 11 because of his multigame absences. The hope is Dragic will be consistently be available moving forward as the Heat battles for playoff positioning with just about a month remaining in the regular season.
“I’m not thinking about it, if I’m honest,” Dragic said regarding the possibility of again moving into the starting lineup for this season’s playoffs. “Whatever coaches needs, I’m here. If he needs me to start, if he needs me to come off the bench, whatever they need, I’m going to do for the team. As long as we win. The most important thing is to try to win as much as possible and get to the playoffs. And from there, we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
When the Heat faces the Nuggets on Wednesday night at Ball Arena, Denver will be without one of its top players.
Nuggets starting guard Jamal Murray sustained a torn ACL in his left knee and is out indefinitely, the team announced Tuesday. He suffered the injury late in the Nuggets’ 116-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
Murray, 24, has averaged 21.2 points while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 40.8 percent on threes, four rebounds and 4.8 assists this season.
Denver, which still features All-Star center and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, enters Wednesday’s matchup against Miami on a two-game losing skid. The Nuggets sit in fourth place in the Western Conference at 34-20.
“We like those challenges,” Dragic said of the Heat’s difficult back-to-back against the Suns and Nuggets. “We know that the odds are going to be against us. But in the past, we’ve already proven that we can win those games and we’re going to try to win.”
Tickets for the Heat’s eight remaining regular-season home games will go on sale to the general public on Thursday starting at 2 p.m. on Heat.com, the team announced Tuesday.
The number of fans allowed to attend games at AmericanAirlines Arena will remain around 4,000 for now, with the COVID-19 health and safety protocols still in place.
The Heat returns home from its current four-game trip to take on the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
▪ The Heat listed Victor Oladipo (right knee soreness) and KZ Okpala (health and safety protocols) as out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns. Oladipo did not travel with the team on the trip and will miss his second straight game because of the knee issue.
The only other Heat player on the injury report is two-way contract guard Gabe Vincent, who is probable with right knee soreness.