James Johnson is just happy to be back.
After spending the past month working toward meeting the team’s conditioning standards regarding body fat and weight, the 32-year-old forward has played in each of the Heat’s past three games entering Friday night’s showdown against LeBron James and the Lakers. Johnson made his season debut in Sunday’s win over the Rockets.
“It feels good, man,” Johnson said. “The little competition that I’m getting and the minutes that I’m getting are helping me get my brain back into it, keeping my focus. Just all the stay-in-tune aspects of the game, I’m getting to work on them.”
Johnson’s playing time has come mostly with injuries limiting the Heat’s depth. He played 22 minutes Sunday against the Rockets with forwards Derrick Jones Jr. and Justise Winslow out with injuries, then he was limited to only six minutes when Jones and Winslow returned from injury in Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets, but he played 15 minutes in Thursday’s win over the Suns with Winslow again out and Jones exiting the game early with a left hip strain.
What approach is Johnson taking with his new role, with minutes not guaranteed each night?
“Just stay ready. That’s the only approach you can really take in a situation like that,” he said. “Just stay ready and preparation meets opportunity. So I’m just staying ready. Body wise, conditioning wise, I’m ready to play 25 to 30 minutes. So just keep that attitude and keep working and keep working on my game. I know it’s not the end for me.”
Johnson said he feels “great” when it comes to conditioning, but his rhythm on the court is still a work in progress.
Entering Friday, Johnson was averaging 6.7 points while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent on threes, two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 14.3 minutes over his three games this season. His best performance came in his season debut, when he finished with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes off the bench Sunday against the Rockets.
All of this comes after a turbulent start to the season, with Johnson away from the team for the first 10 days of training camp and the preseason after failing to meet the Heat’s conditioning requirements. He was sent away on the eve of training camp on Sept. 30 and did not return to the team until Oct. 11.
“I’ve been fighting my whole life, my whole career,” said Johnson, who is in his 11th NBA season. “There’s no change. If it don’t break you then it’s going to help make you.”
Heat guard Dion Waiters is dealing with his own rocky start to the season, as he entered Friday still waiting to play in his first game since serving his one-game suspension in the Oct. 23 season opener for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
For Johnson, he dealt with his situation internally.
“They’re grown men,” Johnson said when asked if he leaned on teammates during his time away from the court. “I’m not going to try to drain somebody else’s energy on me when they have a job to do themselves.”
Herro on Booker
Yes, Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro models his game after Suns guard Devin Booker. But that doesn’t mean Herro is intimidated by Booker.
During the second half of Thursday’s Heat win over the Suns, Herro made it clear he wanted to be the one defending Booker. Herro even called off Heat wing Jimmy Butler.
“He told me to get out the way,” Butler said with a smile. “Think about that. I was like, ‘Yo, I got Book.’ He was like, ‘No, go over there.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ But that’s why you got to love that kind because he backs down from no challenge and he likes that. He wants to be a two-way guy and he’s very capable of doing it. He’s a hard worker, man.”
According to NBA.com’s stats, Booker scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting in 12 possessions defended by Herro on Thursday.
“You got to like the kid’s guts, for better or worse,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Herro. “He had some defensive breakdowns throughout the course of the game and he’s learning. Devin got him a couple of times, drew fouls and got him in compromising positions. But he’s a competitor. He wants those kinds of challenges.”
WINSLOW IN NBA’S CONCUSSION PROTOCOL
Following Tuesday’s collision between Winslow and Nuggets forward Paul Millsap, it was determined Thursday that Winslow would need to enter the NBA’s concussion protocol program.
Winslow sat out Thursday’s win over the Suns with what the Heat first labeled as a headache. The Heat announced after Thursday’s game that Winslow has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol.
Winslow was also ruled out for Friday’s game against the Lakers.
“He didn’t have really any symptoms until today,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “So we had him checked out by the Suns’ doctor and we’ll find out more when he goes through the protocol.”
According to the NBA, “If a player is suspected of having a concussion, or exhibits the signs or symptoms of concussion, he will be removed from participation by either a team physician or the player’s team athletic trainer and undergo evaluation in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.”
Then “if a player undergoes a concussion evaluation and is not diagnosed with a concussion, the team’s medical staff will continue to monitor the player, and the player will undergo at least another concussion evaluation by the medical staff prior to the team’s next game or practice or approximately 24 hours after the initial concussion evaluation (whichever is first).”
But “if a player is diagnosed with concussion, he will not return to participation: on that same day or the next calendar day; and before completing the required return-to-participation process.”
▪ Along with Winslow, Jones (left hip strain), Waiters (illness), KZ Okpala (left Achilles strain) and Daryl Macon (G League) were ruled out for Friday’s game against the Lakers.