Spoelstra likens Johnson to Green
TORONTO — The stat line made it look like a night of misery, the 1-of-8 shooting from the field for three points.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had a decidedly different perspective when it came to James Johnson’s return to the starting lineup.
“He’s a unique basketball player,” Spoelstra said, as the Heat turned from Friday’s victory over the Chicago Bulls at the start of this two-game trip to Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors. “He’s a little bit similar to Draymond Green offensively. He can have that great impact and not score, because of his ability to see the floor, handle at the four position, collapse the defense and make plays at the rim or sprays out to the 3-point line.”
Playing as catalyst, Johnson led the Heat with five assists in the victory over the Bulls.
“Whatever we need, I’m here to provide, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s being a maestro,” he said. “But, yeah, until I get my legs all the way back underneath me, I just want to be able to move the ball, get the ball popping. We have so much talent on this team and so many guys that can do so much that we’re trying to play everybody in spots to success.”
To a degree, Johnson was on the spot in the victory at the United Center, with Goran Dragic out with his ongoing knee issue and the Heat lacking a true point guard.
“With Goran out, he just gives us that extra ballhandler to initiate offense with him,” Spoelstra said. “I said it before the game, we have a lot of versatility on this team, but it doesn’t fully get unlocked until JJ’s out there.”
The game was Johnson’s Miami Heat forward James Johnson said it’s his job “to provide, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s being a maestro.”
third back in his recovery from May surgery for a sports hernia.
“It’s huge,” forward Josh Richardson said. “At the four spot and even at the five sometimes, he’s a mismatch nightmare. He’s a smart player, so he knows the game. He sees switches, he sees [plays] that other guys can’t see. He just gave us a big boost.”
Even on a night that included a single 3-point conversion.
“He’s a trigger for us — his ability to set screens, his ability to handle, his ability to get us into offense,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “There’s going to be some nights when he’s doing that, the defense is going to forget about him and he’s going to go off for 16 or 20. So, we definitely have been missing him, his presence. His IQ is big for our team.”
Talk the talk: Spoelstra ended Friday’s game hoarse and limited with his speech. That’s when second-year center Bam Adebayo, who is generally quiet on the court and verbose off, took charge.
“I was starting to lose, to lose my voice and Bam took
over and it’s the most I heard him talk in a game,” Spoelstra said. “And I don’t find that at all a coincidence that our defense was better or organized when he was getting guys to the proper spots.” ...
Adebayo played as the Heat’s closer in the middle.
“Down the stretch in the fourth,” Richardson said. “Bam did a good job of setting solid screens and getting stops on the other end.”
Next challenge: From the lowly Bulls, the Heat now move on to the league-leading Raptors.
And if there were any doubts that Kawhi Leonard was all the way back from the physical issues of last season’s thigh injury or the mental drain of his offseason trade from the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks said to think again.
“I mean he’s back,” Brooks told reporters before his team lost Friday to the Raptors. “You can probably say he is the best twoway player in basketball. And the way he takes the challenge of guarding the best players every night, that takes a lot out of you
Heat at Raptors
When/Where: 6 p.m., Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
TV: Fox Sports Sun; Radio: 790-AM, 106.3-FM, 710-AM (Spanish), 1140-AM (Spanish), 760-AM (Spanish) Scouting report: This is the first game of the four-game season series, with the Heat also to visit April 7 during the final week of the season. … The Heat went 2-1 against the Raptors last season, after losing the series in each of the previous three seasons. … The Heat are 1-6 in Toronto in their last seven visits, after splitting the two games last season in what then was known as Air Canada Centre. … The Raptors in the offseason added Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in the trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs, with Nick Nurse named to replace dismissed coach Dwane Casey. … This is the second game of a twogame trip for the Heat that will be followed by a fourgame homestand. … The game closes out a twogame homestand for the Raptors, who lead the NBA with a 16-4 record. … Dion Waiters (ankle), Goran Dragic (knee) and Tyler Johnson (hamstring) are out for the Heat, with Yante Maten on G League assignment. … For the Raptors, Norman Powell (shoulder) is out. — Ira Winderman
physically but mentally you have to be mentally strong to challenge yourself every possession to guard the best players. And if you do get scored on, you have to reboot pretty quickly because you have to do the same thing the next time down the court.
“But he has the quickness, he has the post-up game, the mid-range game, he shoots threes, he gets to the free-throw line. There is nothing he doesn’t do well.”