The Heat missed Tyler Johnson on Friday night in a 102-98 loss to the Los Angles Clippers — and not just for his offense.
Johnson is averaging 13.0 points. And although he has started all 25 of his games this season on the bench, he usually ends them on the court — he leads all NBA players in fourth-quarter minutes.
But there is something else Johnson has added to his game this season, and that’s his defense. He had a career-high four blocks in the last game he played, on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers. His previous high in a game was two.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is hoping to get Johnson back in time for Sunday night’s home game against the Boston Celtics, said he’s pleased with his team’s defensive effort so far.
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“We emphasize challenging a lot and that doesn’t necessarily mean blocking shots,” Spoelstra said. “Some people have a better feel for it and better physical gifts to do it.”
Johnson, at 6-4 and with good leaping ability, seems to fall into that category.
He is holding offensive players he’s guarding to 41.5 percent shooting, which is 2.7 percent lower than their averages. Johnson is sixth on the team in that category. James Johnson is No. 1 on the Heat, holding shooters to 11.8 percent below their averages.
In addition, Tyler Johnson is third on the Heat with 17 blocks. Hassan Whiteside is obviously first, and James Johnson is second.
Among guards, Tyler entered the weekend ranked third in the NBA in blocks with 17 — tied with former Heat star Dwyane Wade.
“Dwyane is arguably the best shot-blocking guard of all time, and I think he is,” Spoelstra said. “J-Rich [Josh Richardson] has that ability. Tyler has that ability. Justise Winslow has that ability.
“Even Goran [Dragic] has become better at it just by working hard, challenging and taking pride on making it tough.”
Having those defenders healthy and active is part of the blueprint that Spoestra envisions. It hasn’t really happened yet this season due to injuries, but the potential is there.
And then there’s this: When Tyler Johnson is able to get two blocks per game, the Heat wins. It’s a small sample size, but they are 5-1 in those instances.
Perhaps Johnson learned something from Wade in the shot-blocking department.
“Maybe in just seeing someone taking pride on the defensive side of the floor,” Spoelstra said. “Those guys [Johnson, Richardson and Winslow] have taken it to the next level to finish plays off.”
And if those opposing perimeter players get past the Heat guards, Whiteside is often waiting for the block.
“A lot of the times, I know where his guy is going,” Whiteside said of the player Johnson is guarding. “A lot of those [blocked] shots, I’m just watching [Johnson] get.”
The Heat, the worst foul-shooting team in the NBA for most of this season, shot just 64.0 percent (16 of 25) from the line on Friday.
Part of the problem is the fact that the Heat player who goes to line most often — Whiteside — is shooting a poor percentage (52.5).
Whiteside, who shot 65.0 percent last season, has been to the line 139 times this season. Dragic is second on the team in attempts but has 40 fewer than Whiteside.
Dragic said the Heat’s issues from the foul line are mental.
“We need to be focused — not just in games but in practice, too,” said Dragic, who is shooting 81.8 percent this season. “It’s not just going to the line and shooting. We have to visualize it like it’s in a game. Then it will probably be a much better percentage.”
Sunday: Celtics at Heat
When/where: 6 p.m. AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Celtics lead 66-44.
Scouting report: Heat guard Tyler Johnson missed Friday’s loss to the Clippers because of illness and is listed as questionable along with Wayne Ellington (mild right hamstring strain). The Celtics, who beat the Heat 112-104 in Miami on Nov. 28, got Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart back from the injured list in Friday’s win over the Hornets.