Heat's Goran Dragic eats elbow, loses tooth, gets called for foul

You know things aren't going your way when you get elbowed in the face, wind up looking at your tooth on the floor and get called for the foul ... and, well, things mostly haven't been going Goran Dragic's way this season.

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Luckily, Al Horford's progress wasn't so impeded by Dragic's forearm, and his elbow wasn't so significantly damaged by Dragic's tooth, that he couldn't throw down a dunk on the ensuing possession during the third quarter of his Atlanta Hawks' meeting with Dragic's Miami Heat on Monday.

(You think I'm kidding, but I'm an old enough blog guy to remember Carl Landry's teeth embedded in Dirk Nowitzki's right arm and Wilson Chandler's tooth causing an infection in David Lee's elbow that briefly made doctors think they'd have to cut his triceps muscle. Weird things happen with teeth.)

So, yes, coming away from that third-quarter tangle broken, bloodied and with another personal seems oddly appropriate, given the way Dragic's season has gone. After signing a five-year, $85 million contract in free agency, the 29-year-old point guard was expected to play an integral role in the revival of a club charting a new course one year after the departure of LeBron James. He's struggled mightily, though, posting his worst per-game scoring and shooting numbers since becoming a full-time NBA starter four years ago while turning the ball over on a higher share of his possessions than he has since his rookie season.

Maybe the issue's been an uncomfortable on-court fit; Miami's slow-paced, sour-shooting offense seems organized more around the half-court/elbows-and-in talents of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside than Dragic's gift for getting out on the break and knifing through lanes opened by floor-spacing shooters. Maybe off-court concerns have played a part; complications with his wife's pregnancy rendered her unable to leave Slovenia until mid-November, meaning Dragic was without his wife, newborn daughter and two-year-old son for months. Maybe it's both, to varying degrees.

Whatever the case, Dragic has often looked tentative and uncomfortable as he's tried to find rhythm and comfort alongside Wade in the backcourt and Whiteside in the frontcourt. He's getting shots blocked off his head; he's getting (gently) cursed at for not shooting; and now, when he tries to get into the kitchen of an All-Star big man in a mismatch off a switch, he winds up needing a towel and the number of an oral surgeon in Atlanta who's open late. Just perfect.

And you know what? Maybe it actually was.

See, Dragic had just put together one of his best stretches of play in a Heat uniform, having scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting with four assists, two rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 18 first-half 1/2 minutes to help pace Miami to a 47-38 lead at intermission. Then he gets clocked in the chops, has to leave the court to get tended to ... and comes back to continue plugging away.

He didn't get his own offense going, making one of his four field-goal attempts after the elbow, but he helped out on the glass, moved the ball and competed, playing another 13 1/2 minutes and walking away with a jack-o'-lantern smile when Miami finished off a 100-88 victory to improve to 14-9 on the season. From Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald:

Sunday night, during a comeback victory against Memphis, Wade had some colorful language for Dragic, ordering the latter to start shooting the well, bleeping, ball. Monday, Dragic had a message for Wade.

He told his backcourt mate that he has lost a tooth, but wasn’t going to lose the game.

So, after spending some time on the bench, and in the locker room, Dragic returned.

“We learned something about G tonight,” Wade said. “We knew he was tough, but not get-your-tooth-knocked-out-and-come-back tough.” [...]

Chris Bosh wasn’t as impressed.

“It’s just a tooth,” he deadpanned.

For his part, head coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to think it was more than "just a tooth" — it was a symbol of Dragic's willingness to dig in, to fight through the adversity he's been facing, and to make common cause with his teammates in their effort to establish themselves as a legitimate contender to come out of the East:

That's not a joke, by the way. A Heat trainer did collect the piece of Dragic's busted fang, and gave it to him in a small pill bottle.

The tooth fairy might not have anything in store for Dragic, but maybe he and the Heat can take something away from Monday night all the same — that they can play fast at times, that uptempo offense and clamp-down defense can go hand-in-hand, and that you can weather off nights (like Wade's 3-for-16 shooting performance) when the rest of the team pitches in (Bosh led the way with 24 points and 10 boards, Gerald Green added 20 on 9-for-14 shooting off the bench, and just-back-from-injury Luol Deng chipped in 18 points, nine boards and four assists). Put it all together, and Miami might have the recipe for something special.

"We've got to bring this every game," Green said after the game, according to Paul Newberry of The Associated Press. "When the season ends, we want to be competing for a world championship."

In the immediate future, though, Dragic will likely have his sights set on smaller goals.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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