Spoel­stra likens John­son to Green

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Gameday - By Ira Win­der­man

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.”

JOHN MC­CALL/SUN SEN­TINEL

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