Goran Dragic Faces Former Team Amid Season Struggles


Tonight’s game between the Miami Heat (25-33) and Phoenix Suns (31-29) is a battle between teams struggling to find consistency through roster upheavals and injury. Goran Dragic will face his former teammates for the first time as a member of the Heat and looks for some vindication in front of his new fans.

Start Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Game will be played in Miami at the AmericanAirlines Arena
TV Info: Fox Sports/NBA TV
Radio: 104.3 The Ticket

I remember leaving a former place of employment to join a rival firm years ago and then, as is always the case, meeting my former boss and colleagues at some rubber-chicken function weeks later. There’s a moment of silence and recognition – who approaches whom first? – then the exchange of pleasantries. If you’re lucky, they’ll be sincere; more often than not, you’ll wear a shit-eating grin and just work your way through it.

Now imagine this awkward meeting in front of thousands of people and broadcast on live television? Goran Dragic will be living this tonight with the Miami Heat as he faces his former team.

Perhaps the situation is not as severe as I make it sound – in the NBA fraternity, there are very few grudges. And a teammate who leaves to got get his (whatever that might be) is never judged for it (i.e. LeBron James). Dragic’s former teammates will be cool with the how The Dragon forced his way out of Phoenix, at least on the surface.

But you can bet both the former Suns guard and the current Suns players will be desperate for a victory to prove a point.

These teams are both competing for playoff relevancy. The Heat, losers of two straight, cling to the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference by the narrowest of margins. Just 2.5 games separate Miami from the next five rungs on the ladder. A loss tonight could be the first step toward completely forcing them out of the playoff picture. The Suns face the same situation, although the competition out West is much better. While Phoenix held the eighth seed for a good portion of the season, the Dragic trade and a surge from Oklahoma City have them on the outside looking in.

The Heat may be challenged even further with the news that Dragic and Chris Andersen are listed as day-to-day and might not be available for tonight’s game. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra might be forced to creatively alter his lineup once more. Of course that inconsistency is a big part of why Miami struggles to win.

In the even that Dragic does play, the hope is he’ll bounce back from a subpar performance on Saturday against Atlanta. He’s bounced back from games in which he’s scored under 12 points (as he did versus the Hawks) by getting over 20 in following games (albeit without injury). If he misses the game, expect Mario Chalmers to start in his place, depleting a reserve unit even further. Dwyane Wade, struggling since his return after the All-Star break will have to carry the load along with Luol Deng, who has thrived since the acquisition of Dragic. Of course, Hassan Whiteside – whose development is still a work in progress – will have to be as dominant as he was earlier this season.

Phoenix may have their own health issues with Brandon Knight, the player acquired to replace Dragic, is dealing with a hip injury. They’ll rely on the incredible Eric Bledsoe to harass Wade all night, along with Markieff Morris to provide floor spacing. Alex Len, who has gone from draft bust to reliable starter, has the length to limit Whiteside – this is a matchup to watch.

All in all, it should be a competitive game. Although the Heat are starting to show signs of defeat, the opportunity to face a former team could be the motivation they need. The season will only get more difficult from here on out as other challengers keep hope alive by trying to earn a playoff berth.