Tyler Johnson took a new approach to this year’s All-Star break.
Instead of immersing himself in what has become his basketball routine, the 25-year-old combo guard took the advice of the Miami Heat’s two elder statesmen – Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem – and switched things up.
“I didn't touch a ball all break,” Johnson said Saturday after he scored 23 points to lead the Heat (31-29) to a blowout of the Grizzlies that ended Miami’s losing streak at three games and put them ahead of the Detroit Pistons by two games for the eight and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 22 games to go.
“Usually when I go through a stretch where I’m not playing well I try to put it into overdrive and kind of will it,” Johnson continued. “I was talking to Dwyane, UD on the way over to L.A. [for the All-Star Game] and they were telling me to kind of just get away and clear my mind.”
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So, he did. Other than cheering on Goran Dragic and Wayne Ellington at All-Star weekend, Johnson said he spent time with his family and unplugged himself. The only hooping he did was in his mind.
“I just had to take a long look at myself over the break – what was working, what wasn’t working,” said Johnson, who has practiced meditation in the past with the daughter of NFL Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. “I think before the break I was just settling for too many jumpers, trying to shoot my way out of a funk instead of doing what I do best, which is being an attacker and getting other people involved.”
What Johnson has done in the two games since the Heat’s return from the All-Star break is encouraging. Not only has he shot better (12 of 22, 54.4 percent) and scored more (19 points per game) than in his 10 games before the break (9.2 points per game, 36.7 percent field goal percentage), but physically Johnson resembles more of the player he was before he carted off the court in Chicago back on Jan. 15 with a badly sprained left ankle.
Johnson’s 23-point performance Saturday was his first 20-point game since he exploded for a season-high 31 points in a win at Orlando Dec. 30 and sixth overall. Last season, he had 11 games of at least 20 points.
“He was so aggressive – he was like a blur going to the rim,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Johnson, who got to the free throw line a career-high nine times in 32 minutes Saturday night. “That’s the Tyler that we saw before the injury. He probably needed that All-Star break as much as anybody just to have those days off and let his body rest. He was aggressive [Friday night in New Orleans] too.
“He didn’t get to the rack as often, but you could see it was different. And the two practices we had before the New Orleans game looked very much like how he looked in training camp and before the injury.”
Johnson, whose salary more than triples from $5.8 million to $19.2 million each of the next two seasons, has always been a much more effective scorer in the restricted area than he has an outside shooter when compared to other guards in the league.
This season, Johnson is shooting 63.5 percent in the restricted area (23rd among 79 guards with at least 100 attempts) compared to 36.1 percent on pull up jump shots (103rd out of 147 guards with at least 90 attempts) and 34.7 percent on catch and shoot attempts (80th among 95 guards with at least 100 attempts).
Last season, when he thrived in a sixth man type role alongside James Johnson, Tyler Johnson shot 58.2 percent in the restricted area (44th among 97 guards with at least 100 attempts), 33.9 percent on pull up jump shots (103rd among 121 guards with at least 100 attempts) and 37.9 percent on catch and shoot attempts (63rd among 115 guards with at least 100 attempts) .
Wade, who played with Johnson in Miami for a couple seasons and maintained a friendship with him even after he left the Heat for Chicago and then Cleveland before returning at the trade deadline earlier this month, said all he did was remind Johnson over the All-Star break to be himself.
“When a team changes a little bit, a guy’s role may change a little bit,” Wade said. “I think last year he really loved him and JJ playing together. This year, they’re not playing together. It may have affected him a little bit mentally because he had a great connection.
“[Tyler is] a big part and been a big part of what this team is made of,” Wade continued. “He’s a tough guy who can get up and down, plays above the rim, also can shoot outside. So his game has really developed and this team needs it, needs Tyler to be aggressive like that and play his game. It’s good to see him come out [Saturday night] the way he did, play aggressive, starting the game the way he has lately.”