Painfully red and inflamed, the right knee of Tyler Johnson was missing a large chunk of skin on Sunday following the rookie’s unlikely contribution to the Heat’s victory against the Boston Celtics.
Johnson glanced down at the abrasion and shrugged his shoulders.
“That happened in the last game,” he said.
It was just another lingering memory from perhaps the greatest week of his life.
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Johnson is savoring everything right now — the opportunity, the success and the pain — as he helps the Heat through a difficult patch of the season.
On his second 10-day contract with the team, the 22-year-old shooting guard played 27 minutes against the Celtics and had 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. That’s a statement game for any rookie, but especially one who is trying to make the jump from the D-League to the NBA. Johnson is expected to get just as much, if not more, playing time Tuesday night when the Heat (21-26) plays the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and there’s a sense growing around the team that Johnson could be with the Heat far longer than anyone expected.
“We’re open-minded to the anything right now, particularly with our player-development program and the way the season has been with injuries,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Everyone has to be ready, and that’s real.”
Spoelstra called Johnson “the model of player development” on Monday after the Heat’s practice at the Palace, which was the strongest indication yet that Johnson soon might be signing a contract to remain with the team for the remainder of the season.
On Sunday, Spoelstra referred to Johnson as a “two-way player,” which is high praise for any player, but especially an undrafted rookie.
After going undrafted, Johnson signed with the Heat last summer and played in both summer leagues with the franchise. He then participated in the Heat’s preseason training camp before signing a contract with the Heat’s D-League affiliate.
“After training camp I felt like I was still really close,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, I still had a chance to give back to this organization, and so I had to make the decision of not going overseas and taking a little bit more money and going down to the D-League, but I had my family there with me, so it was a little easier. I stayed the course, and it has worked out.”
Johnson watched from the bench during his first 10-day contract with the Heat, but injuries to Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng have created a window for him to contribute heavy minutes.
“It has to be also the right opportunity, the right organization, the right fit, the right style of play and the right timing, and that’s what you’re seeing with Tyler right now,” Spoelstra said. “He spent a lot of time with us, and because of Dwyane and Lu being out, now your number is called, but can you be productive in those minutes when you get those opportunities?”
Wade, who strained his hamstring last week, isn’t currently with the team on its four-game road trip, and the Heat’s starting shooting guard could be out until after the All-Star break. Deng has a strained calf, and although he practiced on Monday in Auburn Hills, he is questionable for Tuesday’s game and will be a game-time decision. Defeating the Celtics without Wade and Deng registered as a moral booster for the Heat, and Spoelstra called the victory “one of our top-five defensive-rated games just in terms of activity and multiple efforts.”
Johnson was just one of the Heat’s young players to offer positive contributions during the short-handed victory. Center Hassan Whiteside was the headliner, of course, and had 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, but rookie wing James Ennis played more than 25 minutes and had eight points and three rebounds. On the perimeter, rookie point guard Shabazz Napier started his second game in a row.
“There is no question they bring a motor and an activity on both ends of the court, a youthful exuberance, and they need to continue to do that with improvement to attention to detail of our system,” Spoelstra said. “Our veteran guys can’t just point to our young guys and say you guys just play with the energy and activity now. Our veteran guys have to take that to heart and let that inspire them. But our young guys have been good.”
Tuesday: MIA @ DET
When/where: 7:30 p.m.;
The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit.
TV/radio: SUN Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 50-44.
Noteworthy: This is the first of three matchups between the Heat and Pistons this season. … Miami is without Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Josh McRoberts (knee) and Luol Deng (calf) is questionable. … Pistons guard Brandon Jennings (knee) is out for the remainder of the season.