CHARLOTTE - For the Heat front office, the personnel evaluation dynamic of this playoff run not only has been about determining what players thrive under pressure, but getting a read on which make tangible contributions toward winning.
In both regards, Goran Dragic and impending free agent James Johnson continue to demonstrate they’re keepers.
Dragic’s brilliant 33-point performance in Wednesday’s 112-99 win in Charlotte left him with the exact same scoring average (20.3) that he produced in Phoenix in 2013-14, when he was named third team All-NBA.
His overall numbers are very comparable to that season. He’s averaging the same number of assists (5.9), slightly more rebounds (3.8 to 3.2) and shooting better on threes (40.9 to 40.8).
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He shot better from the field in that breakout year in Phoenix – 50.5 compared with 47.8 now – but said he’s a "more complete player" now.
"I think I’m a better defender," he said. "In Phoenix, we didn’t play a lot of good defense. It was not a habit that I had.
"Offensively, I expanded my game. That year, a lot of points came from transition and three-point range, but I feel I didn’t have that midrange game like I do now. Now I can use a lot of different shots – floaters, mid-range shots."
Johnson, meanwhile, continued to demonstrate his value against Charlotte, scoring 26 points (on 10-12 shooting) in his first start of the season, filling in for injured Luke Babbitt, who remains day-to-day with a hip flexor, with the Heat playing at Toronto on Friday.
"He’s always impactful if he’s coming from the bench or he’s starting a game," Dragic said of Johnson. "We actually played a lot of pick-and-rolls with [power forward Johnson on Wednesday], not with Whitey [Hassan Whiteside], because with Whitey, they blitz us a lot.
"But J.J., he’s great at creating for others and he was knocking down shots, especially threes. And that gives us a different versatility."
Johnson, who has said he wants to play the rest of his career in Miami, said he was comfortable starting, something he had done 140 times previously in his NBA career.
"I’ve played with these guys a lot," Johnson said of opening with the starters. "I’ve been in that group with the same guys but deeper into the game. It was good starting with them and seeing what that felt like."
Tyler Johnson said it felt "weird" not to enter the game with James Johnson at the same time, something both had done all season.
For a look at the inspirational speech Udonis Haslem gave teammates this week, and some eye-opening comments made by Hornets coach Steve Clifford about Hassan Whiteside, please click here for my other Heat post from today.