Heat searching for answers to Goran Dragic quandry

MIAMI -- During a game in which the Memphis Grizzlies switched Zach Randolph out of the starting lineup -- a move that would signal the "grit and grind" Grizzlies are finally searching for an alternate identity -- it was the Miami Heat that spent much of the game looking like it needed a shakeup.

Coming off three straight losses that took them from first in the Eastern Conference to peak frustration in less than a week, it probably wasn't ideal to have Goran Dragic, Miami's latest $85 million investment, turning down open layups, turning down open 3-pointers, turning the ball over and turning makeable shots into hopeless clankers.

Through one half of basketball Sunday, Dragic was 1-of-8 for four points, 0-of-4 from 3-point range, and had three of the Heat's four turnovers to go with his three assists.

In what has easily been Dragic's worst season since he became a regular NBA starter, Dragic has shown the occasional sign that he can indeed work in an offense beside another ball-dominant guard (Dwyane Wade) and a paint-clogging center (Hassan Whiteside).

Before the Heat's recent two-game road trip -- the team left the offense behind in Miami -- Dragic had a three-game stretch in which he averaged 17 points on 59 percent shooting with eight assists.

But Sunday, back in the comforts of home, Dragic's confidence was clearly shot. And his teammates were once again offering their style of encouragement.

"Shoot the (darn) ball, that's what I told him," Wade said. "It's just simple. We have a great relationship. I can talk to him like that."

Wade certainly wasn't alone. You could almost hear an entire arena of Heat fans not-so-politely asking Dragic to shoot on a pair of drives in which he didn't even look at the rim despite having a clean look in the paint.

"I know what he was seeing," Wade said. "The Memphis defense, whoever was guarding the [opposite] corner guy, he would come all the way off [his man] and get in the paint. So when he was driving, it wasn't an easy shot. And then you get out of rhythm sometimes.

"But I still want him to think aggressive. When I'm penetrating and I kick it to him, be ready to shoot. He needs to hear that we want him to be aggressive, we want him to shoot the ball -- at the right times.

"Obviously, he's the point guard and he needs to get us into offense, but when he's off the ball, he needs to become a scorer."

This isn't a new conversation. Dragic and Wade have been struggling to work together all season, and Dragic's occasional lack of confidence or aggressiveness has been a constant subject.

At times, the blame has been placed on Whiteside's presence in the paint, and at other times the fact that Dragic's family, including a newborn baby, were still living in Europe until recently.

But by now, you'd expect a successful adjustment from a point guard who was widely considered among the best in the league when the Heat traded for him last season.

"The struggle, it happens," Chris Bosh said of Dragic. "You can either keep fighting it or you can kind of let it get to you. If you see it affecting a teammate, just say something. Guys have to know that we have confidence in him every time he's on the court. He's our point guard and he needs to play well, and we're going to encourage him to do that.

"It's hard, but it's the best league in the world, so it's very hard to be successful."

"The struggle, it happens. You can either keep fighting it or you can kind of let it get to you. ... Guys have to know that we have confidence in him every time he's on the court." Chris Bosh on Goran Dragic

Dragic slipped out of the locker room without speaking to the media Sunday, which is uncommon for the always-friendly guard, but he managed to speak for himself some in the second half.

Though he was just 2-of-6 for four points with another two turnovers in the second half, Dragic did dish out five assists and initiated quality offensive sets late in a game in which the Heat overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Memphis 100-97.

The final stretch of that comeback might have added some fuel to the claim that Whiteside and Dragic aren't a great pairing on the court.

Dragic played his best basketball in the final 6:35 when he re-entered the game for good and Whiteside exited for good.

After rebounding his own missed shot, Dragic assisted on three straight Heat possessions that closed the gap to 92-87. And despite not being known for his defense, Dragic was part of the Heat's most active defensive unit -- one that did not include Whiteside, the league's leading shot blocker who went his first game all season without a blocked shot.

"I like seeing guys go through a struggle to see how they respond, and he responded in a very positive way," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I think it was great to see him show some character when the chips are not going your way. You can grind through it and help your team."

Interesting choice of words there, considering it's the Grizzlies who've tended to "grind" their way to wins in games like these over the years.

But while they're finally going away from the traditional two-big starting lineup, the Heat still has Bosh and Whiteside in theirs while encouraging Dragic to play fast and aggressively. It might behoove the Heat to examine these Grizzlies and the relatively poor season of Mike Conley, who said earlier this year the paint is "a zoo," limiting his options offensively.

Spoelstra spent part of his postgame news conference discussing the parity in the league and the variety of styles being played, insisting there is no single formula for success in today's NBA.

While that could be true, it doesn't necessarily mean the Heat's style is one of the successful formulas. Based on their offensive rating (23rd in the league), Dragic's down season (10.9 points, 5.0 assists, 43.1 percent shooting) and the fact that we're more than a quarter into the season, it could be time for some adjustment from Spoelstra.

Whether it's spending less time with Whiteside and Dragic on the floor together, or something more drastic, there has to be a better plan than waiting for Wade to politely curse at his point guard.