Justise Winslow was sitting in the hot tub Monday inside the Heat’s training room when a couple of teammates came over to ask him who the new guy was.
The new guy wasn’t new. It was forward James Johnson, who visited the team barber for a haircut and shaved the beard he’d be growing for years, making him almost unrecognizable.
“He caught us off guard,” Winslow said with a grin. “It's still the same James. Same person, just a new look.”
The Heat, in the midst of its own makeover, isn’t a finished product yet this preseason. But after six games, Miami’s new identity — a fast, versatile, athletic team — is taking shape. Tuesday night’s 107-77 blowout win over the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena was the latest chapter in the continuing evolution from the days of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
With Hassan Whiteside back home with his family in North Carolina following the death of his great grandmother, and Winslow resting a sore back, coach Erik Spoelstra employed mostly three-guard lineups and rotated the playmaking Johnson and athletic Derrick Williams at the power forward spot.
For the most part, the bigger Magic struggled to keep pace — just like the San Antonio Spurs did for three quarters in the Heat’s 108-100 win last Friday. Orlando shot 33.7 percent, marking the fourth time this preseason Miami has held an opponent to less than 40 percent shooting.
Dion Waiters, starting for the third game in a row at shooting guard, had 15 points (on 5-of-9 shooting), three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes, and once again impressed playing alongside point guard Goran Dragic, who finished with 17 points (on 8-of-13 shooting) four rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes.
“I love everything this team is doing from the first play to the last play,” Dragic said of the Heat, which had 23 assists. “I think we have great chemistry.
“I feel like everybody can handle the ball — everybody is a playmaker. When you put pressure on one side and swing the ball, immediately the other guy is backing [up]. It’s really hard to defend. I feel like if we share the ball, I feel like we’re great then.”
Waiters said before Tuesday’s game that Spoelstra still hadn’t told him if he will be starting or coming off the bench when the season begins Oct. 26 at Orlando. In Miami’s first three games, Waiters excelled running the second unit, averaging 12.6 points and compiling 14 assists.
Tuesday, Waiters drilled a near half-court shot at the buzzer to send the Heat into the half with a 56-46 lead. Miami, which led by as many as 16 points in the first half, eventually stretched its lead to as many as 22 points midway through the third quarter.
Most of the regulars were out before the end of the third quarter. Spoelstra started Dragic and Waiters alongside three-point specialist Wayne Ellington (12 points), Williams and Willie Reed, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
It was Williams’ fourth consecutive start at power forward, and early on he flashed his athleticism, following up a Dragic missed layup with a tip-in that drew a foul. Williams finished with eight points (3-of-7 shooting) and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
Johnson, meanwhile, sporting his new look, blocked three shots and finished with six points and three rebounds in 10 impactful minutes off the bench.
Tyler Johnson, who started the first two preseason games at point guard, once again shined off the bench. He scored nine points in his first eight minutes on the floor and finished with 15 points, three rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes. Johnson has 14 assists and one turnover in 104 minutes this preseason.
Once again, veteran backup point guard Beno Udrih did not play despite being healthy. Briante Weber, believed to be competing with Udrih for the final roster spot, entered the game late in the third quarter and finished with five points, three assists and four turnovers in 13 minutes.
Miami wraps up the preseason with back-to-back games in Charlotte Thursday and at home against the 76ers on Friday.
Has the team had enough time to gel this preseason?
“Yes and no,” Winslow said before Tuesday’s game. “I think we had enough time to put a good group out there on the floor. But as far as reaching our potential or getting as good as we can get, that's just going to take time, take a number of games. It took us a while last year to figure it out.
▪ James Johnson left Tuesday's game with a slight tweak of his left foot. The injury is not serious according to teammates.