Tyler Johnson was such a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant growing up that he estimates he had as many as eight different versions of Bryant’s Lakers jersey, which he wore faithfully to school on most days.
Johnson didn’t get a chance to guard his childhood hero Tuesday night.
The Lakers gave its aging 37-year-old star the night off to rest, robbing both Johnson of his chance to mix it up with Bryant and the 251st consecutive sellout crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena of an opportunity to see the five-time champion play in what could be his final NBA season.
Outside of that bummer, the day turned out to be pretty good for Johnson. Miami traded backup point guard Mario Chalmers to the Memphis Grizzlies to open up more playing time for the second-year former D-League guard, and the Heat rolled past the Kobe-less Lakers 101-88.
“I like the identity this basketball team has started to embrace, a physical, gritty defensive-minded team,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team held the Lakers to 44.2 percent shooting from the field and forced 18 turnovers that led to 25 points.
Chris Bosh poured in a season-high 30 points and Hassan Whiteside — who on Sunday became the first player this season to have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a game — had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes to lead Miami (5-3) to its first back-to-back wins of the season.
Whiteside didn’t play in the fourth quarter and neither did Dwyane Wade, who finished with 12 points, six assists and a team-leading plus-23 in nearly 25 minutes. Whiteside finished plus-22 and point guard Goran Dragic, who again struggled with his shot (2 of 10), finished plus-23 with four points, five rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes.
Afterward, team president Pat Riley answered questions about the direction he sees the Heat going and the trade the team made Tuesday that saved $6 million in the luxury tax.
“It has a lot to do with young [players],” Riley said. “It has a lot to do with opportunity, with the platform, where we see the team in the future. It has a lot do with the economics of the game. So [it has to do with] all the moving parts in building this team and not knowing exactly where it is. But what we do like is we like Justise [Winslow] and we like Tyler [Johnson] and we like Josh [Richardson] a lot. And I think sometimes you have to give people room to really grow.”
Riley said Tuesday’s trade had nothing to do with saving money. He also said any idea the Heat was looking to trade the two pieces it acquired from the Grizzlies — point guard Beno Udrih and power forward Jarnell Stokes — were only “in the Twitter world.”
“It’s always been our philosophy and [owner] Micky [Arison] has proven that over the 20 years he has been the owner that he wants to win and he wants to win now,” Riley said.
“I don’t think we would sacrifice ever a competitiveness to do that by worrying about whatever financial obligations we might have. In other words trading away players we felt could help us win a title in saving money. But the economics of the game are part of the whole thing that moves the parts. And you have to consider that obviously. But that wasn’t the No. 1 reason why we did it and we’re not looking actively to do that in the future.”
Tuesday, the Heat looked just fine without Chalmers.
Los Angeles (1-6) trailed 77-70 with 10:01 remaining after Larry Nance Jr. dunked on a fastbreak. But the next time down the floor, Johnson jump-started a 12-2 Heat run when he emulated Bryant with a nasty crossover dribble move that left Marcelo Huertas turned in the other direction.
Johnson then finished the play by hitting a layup and drawing a foul on Brandon Bass.
He made the ensuing free throw to complete the three-point play. Johnson finished with nine points, two assists, a steal and two blocks in a season-high 29 minutes.
All five of the Heat’s wins this season have come by double-digits.
The Heat led 50-49 at the break.
Miami was up by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, but the Lakers erased it and took the lead behind the three-point shooting of Nick Young. “Swaggy P” Young came off the bench and swished all four of his three-point attempts and scored 14 points to stake the Lakers to a 39-33 with 8:21 to go in the half.
But the Heat closed the half strong behind Whiteside and Bosh, who combined for 27 points and 19 rebounds over the first two quarters and offset a rough half for Wade and Dragic, who combined to shoot 3 of 15 for six points.