Over his first 11 games with the Miami Heat, Joe Johnson was averaging 15.7 points, making 57.1 percent of his field goals and was a ridiculous 23 of 39 from three-point range (59 percent).
It has been a different story over his past seven games. The 15-year veteran is averaging 8.0 points, made only 22 of his 58 shots (37.9 percent) and is 3 for 22 from three-point range.
Shooters go through hot and cold stretches all the time, but it’s clear opponents are starting to defend Johnson a little differently.
“Teams have trapped him a little bit more on pick and rolls,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday after practice. “So, I think that’s something that we can anticipate seeing more of, which should open up other opportunities for other guys. They also seem to be trapping Goran [Dragic] a little bit more. So each guy can benefit when the other guy is being trapped. We just have to be more aggressive on the weak side.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Dragic said the Heat spent a good chunk of practice Monday working on beating trap defenses and getting the ball to open shooters. In Friday’s win in Sacramento, the Kings forced the Heat into 18 turnovers. Johnson had six, and Dragic had four.
Dragic said when Dwyane Wade returns, it should help both him and Johnson because Wade is “such a great guy cutting and finding open space” when opponents play trap defense.
Johnson, though, still has to do his job and knock down open shots. Over his past seven games, he has missed 16 of 19 open three-point attempts. He was 19 of 31 on open three-point shots and four of eight on contested threes over his first 11 games with Miami.
One difference for Johnson: He’s taking 39.6 percent of his shots with seven seconds or less on the shot clock over his past seven games compared with just 26.8 percent of his shots with seven seconds or less on the shot clock over first 11 with the Heat.
That’s a sign teams are making it harder for him to get to his favorite spots on the court as quickly as he was initially.
“I’m not overly concerned,” Spoelstra said of Johnson’s recent shooting struggles. “We worked a little bit on some details of our offense [Monday]. He’ll make the right play. And we’ll continue to try to get him in places where he can be aggressive.”
Said Luol Deng: “Joe’s a vet, an experienced guy. We’re not worried about the vet guys. He’ll be fine.”
Wade said he was able to go through some light practice work Monday, and he’s hopeful that when he wakes up Tuesday morning his deeply bruised back and “out-of-whack” neck are feeling good enough that he will be able to play against the visiting Pistons.
“The biggest thing is just [getting] rest,” said Wade, who missed the last two games of the Heat’s West Coast trip Friday and Saturday in Sacramento and Portland after taking a tumble Wednesday against the Lakers.
“I’m not going to feel 100 percent, but [hopefully good] enough to help my team. I want to see how I respond [Tuesday]. When I get up am I going to be sore? I’ll determine it from that.”
The Heat, seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference and just a half-game back of the Hawks and Celtics for homecourt advantage in the first round, have a 3 1/2-game lead on the Pistons and Pacers, who are tied at 41-36 for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. By no means, though, is Miami guaranteed to finish in the top six in the East just yet. So, Tuesday’s game is important.
In all, two of Miami’s final six games are against Detroit, which already won the first two meetings and would have the head-to-head tiebreaker if it beats the Heat in one of the final two games. Should Miami find itself tied with Detroit at the end of the year, the Heat would then fall further back in the playoff standings and could end up facing either Toronto or Cleveland in the first round.
“We’re at home and we’re coming off a tough road trip that we lost two out of three,” Wade said. “We have to make up for that. We’re playing a team that’s beat us twice this year, that’s fighting for their playoff lives. But at the same time, we have a team of guys that didn’t make the playoffs last year, and we’ve got rookies or young guys that have never been [to the playoffs]. So, we should be just as hungry as this team coming in. We’re at home so we have to use our crowd energy and hopefully play harder than them.”
▪ With regard to former Heat teammate Shaquille O’Neal being selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday, Wade said: “It’s great for this organization to be able to say we added another Hall of Fame player who came through here and played here.”
“It’s a part of our success,” Wade said. “I’m happy for him, what he did in his career. This is the cherry on top of everything when you get inducted into the Hall of Fame. All those guys that got inducted — Sheryl Swoopes, Jerry Colangelo, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming — this is a great moment for them. It’s pretty cool.”