The Miami Heat extended the NBA’s longest winning streak this season to 13 games, and James Johnson added another chapter to his growing legacy as one of the best finds in the league this season.
The 29-year-old forward, who is having a career year on his fifth NBA team, scored a season-high 26 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and dished out two assists — he basically did it all — as the Heat rallied past the Brooklyn Nets 108-99 at Barclays Center on Friday night.
On a night when Hassan Whiteside struggled to score against and defend Brook Lopez, who went off for 30 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, Johnson moved to center late and did damage on both ends of the court.
“I don’t know if there’s another guy in the league — maybe LeBron [James] and him — who can play the position one to five,” said Heat point guard Goran Dragic, who had 21 points, four rebounds, five assists and several big buckets in the fourth quarter to help relieve Johnson, who did most of the heavy lifting with 17 points in the second half.
“J.J., he’s such a good player. He can handle the ball. He can get us into our offense. He’s a great passer, great finisher and on defense most of the time he was guarding Brook Lopez. It’s nice to have this kind of player on our team.”
Miami (24-30) shot 36.7 percent in the first half and trailed Brooklyn 67-56 with 7:24 to go in the third quarter after Lopez scored on a short jumper. But Johnson, Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Okaro White — the Heat’s small lineup — fueled an 18-5 run to close the quarter and the Heat never trailed again.
With the win, Miami now trails the Detroit Pistons (25-29) by only a game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The loss was the 12th in a row for the Nets (9-45).
Miami’s winning streak is now the longest in the NBA this season, eclipsing the 12 consecutive wins by the Golden State Warriors. It’s also the third-longest in franchise history. The Heat can tie the second-longest mark in club history — 14 consecutive wins — with a victory on Saturday night in Philadelphia.
“Halftime talk,” James Johnson said of what woke the Heat up in the second half. “Coach [Erik Spoelstra] didn’t need to do too much talking. I think we came in and we already knew what we had to get done. We talked amongst each other a lot, and we look at each other a lot when we talk to each other.”
Throughout most of the game, fans in Brooklyn could be heard chanting “Let’s Go Heat.” It got so loud the Nets’ in-house announcer began shouting “Let’s Go Nets” to drown out the Miami fans.
Ultimately, it was the energy of former D-Leaguers McGruder, White and Tyler Johnson who helped get Miami’s comeback jump-started.
McGruder finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals and battled for several key loose balls down the stretch. White had 10 points, five rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes.
Tyler Johnson scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half, had six rebounds and three of the Heat’s 11 steals.
“Rodney McGruder, again, that stat line belies his impact on the game,” Spoelstra said. “It’s incredible looking at his stat line and say, ‘Really, that’s it?’ He had his fingerprints on every possession.
“Just from a competitive standpoint, in the second half, sometimes you just have to dig really deep and that team forced us to have to. It’s whatever it takes, and that’s really the fabric and habit that we’ve been developing all season. We’re a team where it’s got to be a village effort.
“There’s not necessarily going to be one guy every single night. To be able to defend, we have to be five-man basketball. Then offensively, it’s different guys making contributions different nights.”