For Joe Johnson, part of the allure of joining the Miami Heat last month was playing in an up-tempo and fast-paced offense.
Part of the price — the 34-year-old knew — was getting in better shape.
So, after every game he’s played for the Heat, whether he’s been tired or not, the 15-year veteran has headed directly to the stationary bike for 20 to 30 extra minutes of conditioning.
Lately, Johnson hasn’t been alone.
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Over the past weeks, captains Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem have joined Johnson for the postgame stationary bike ride. After Friday’s win over the Magic, Luol Deng joined them for the first time.
“Hard work is a habit,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday. “It also becomes contagious, and guys start to gain more confidence when you see your teammate putting in extra work.
“It’s more about that they feel there’s an opportunity and they’re preparing themselves for what’s ahead. Even with just 10 games left, you’re not trying to preserve. That doesn’t get you to another level that we need to get to. We’re pushing to get out of our comfort level, to find another tier for this team.”
That next tier, Wade and point guard Goran Dragic said Sunday, is all about being in the best shape possible so that energy on offense doesn’t drop and defensive breakdowns don’t occur.
But that all starts with good health and making sure fatigue doesn’t set in.
Despite playing at a faster pace (Miami ranks 13th in miles run per game and overall team speed) than they did before the All-Star break (26th in miles run and team speed), players feel as though their legs are getting stronger as the season progresses.
Dragic, who is playing more strenuous minutes after the break (34.2) than before it (32.3), points to his first dunk of the season in Friday’s win as the perfect example.
“I feel great,” Dragic said. “My body is a little bit banged up. That’s normal, like everybody else. But energy-wise, my legs, I feel fresh. I’m doing a lot of treatment before practice and after practice, and I try to do the NormaTec recovery [boots] before games. I think that helps.”
Like the postgame stationary bike sessions, those long black NormaTec boots — which help athletes recover by improving circulation to reduce muscle soreness — have spread like wildfire in the Heat locker room before games.
It started with Wade and veteran center Amar’e Stoudemire and now Dragic, Deng and others have joined in using them frequently.
Deng and other vets also say they do yoga and stretching exercises to maintain flexibility.
Wade, who has already played in four more games than he did last season, also credits Spoelstra for how he’s delegated minutes for the Heat’s eight-man rotation since the break. The 30.5 minutes Wade is averaging this season are a career-low, but he’s been effective in them.
“I feel good about that,” said Wade, who admitted that at first he wasn’t too excited about playing fewer minutes when Spoelstra first came to him with the idea last season. “Obviously we have 10 [games] left and this is the time of the year that it’s winning time for us. It’s good to be — I can’t say healthy because it’s always going to be something — but it’s good to play and not have to worry about anything necessarily except bumps and bruises.
“That’s what I wanted throughout the summer. I just wanted to come in and be available most nights. I had a goal in my mind of how many games I wanted to play. Hopefully I’ll reach it by the end of the season.”
In terms of on court mileage, Johnson (163.2 miles), Dragic (151.4), Deng (144.8), rookie Justise Winslow (137.9), Wade (134.7) and center Hassan Whiteside (117.4) are the only active Heat players to put up triple digits this season.
Winslow, who turned 20 on Saturday, said he hasn’t felt gassed at all physically and that he doesn’t need any extra conditioning.
“I don’t usually get fatigued in the games,” Winslow said. “A couple games I did, the Pacer games I got a little tired. But it’s not too often I ask for a sub or need anything like that.
“Sometimes it’s funny because we’ll watch clips with the vets and they will see me and [rookie] Josh [Richardson] running around like crazy, making plays and they’ll say ‘Cherish it while it lasts.’
“It’s nice being young.”
Monday: Nets at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790; WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat leads 65-46
Scouting report: The Heat, which lost to Brooklyn at home back on Dec. 28, is looking to win the season-series for the seventh time in the last eight years. The Nets, winners of two in a row, haven’t won three consecutive games all season. Forward Bogan Bogdanovic is averaging 23.2 points and shooting 45.2 percent from three-point range over his last six games.