In a nearly empty locker room after Miami’s 91-79 loss to Milwaukee, Goran Dragic spoke softly to Tyler Johnson.
The game hadn’t gone well for Johnson, who started at the point Tuesday in place of injured Dragic and Beno Udrih. He finished with three points, shot 0 of 6 from the floor, and his only assist of the night came midway through the fourth quarter. The turnovers came earlier; Johnson picked up three in the second quarter as the Bucks pushed their lead to double digits.
“I played like [bleep],” Johnson said. “I played pretty bad. I just didn’t get the team in an offense. It wasn’t my best night, I’ll say that. But we’ve got [a game Wednesday].”
And that’s what Dragic tried to impress upon his teammate in the locker room as he mimicked Johnson’s jab step and sprint down the court with the ball. The conversation was one part technical, one part motivational, Johnson said.
Dragic and Udrih won’t be back immediately, so Johnson will need to find a way to make things work. As Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra said afterward, injuries can’t be an excuse for more Heat losses. Instead, they’ll have to make do with an imperfect situation. Mario Chalmers, who was traded to Memphis in November, isn’t walking back into AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys at the guard position,” Bosh said. “They have to learn. Sometimes that means turning the ball over. Hopefully everybody will learn from the mistakes being made and we can become a better team.”
Part of the learning curve for Johnson includes game management early in contests. He picked up two early fouls during Tuesday’s game, which he said made it difficult to find a rhythm. Unlike coming off the bench, which Johnson said allows him to “just fly around,” being a starter requires a different sort of patience.
Yet while the Heat’s offensive inefficiency might appear to rest largely on Johnson, he certainly didn’t catch any breaks. Early in the third quarter, Johnson found Dwyane Wade wide open for a corner three. The shot clanked off the rim.
On a night when his team shot 36.5 percent and 22.7 percent from three-point range, Johnson still took responsibility for the team’s offensive slump. Even after a second half in which Johnson recorded no turnovers, he declined to say he’d gotten more comfortable or that he better ran the offense as the game progressed.
“No, tonight wasn’t that night,” Johnson said. “I thought we did a better job of moving it in the second half, but you know we were already too far out of sync. A lot of that was on me early, not getting us into what we’re supposed to do. It was my fault.”
Johnson’s past few games suggest Tuesday’s lack of contribution might be an outlier. Prior to the Heat’s game against the Bucks, Johnson scored in double digits in three of his past four games, and he recorded a 1.9:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Udrih is likely out until Friday’s game against the Raptors or Monday’s contest with the Bulls. That means Johnson should earn at least one more day, one more city, one more start.
“It’s a blessing,” Johnson said. “It’s a great thing, because you don’t have too much time to think about games like this. You’ve got a tough one tomorrow, so you’ve kinda got to flush and be done with it. Go back at it tomorrow.”