Barry Jackson

Here’s how the Miami Heat plans to replace Derrick Jones Jr. and an Ellington update

Heat forward James Johnson goes to the basket against Raptors’ forward Serge Ibaka in a Dec. 26 game. Johnson is expected to play at least a bit more with the injury to Derrick Jones Jr.
Heat forward James Johnson goes to the basket against Raptors’ forward Serge Ibaka in a Dec. 26 game. Johnson is expected to play at least a bit more with the injury to Derrick Jones Jr. pportal@miamiherald.com

A bunch of Heat notes on a Tuesday:

Erik Spoelstra said he expects James Johnson’s minutes will increase at least somewhat in the absence of Derrick Jones Jr., who’s expected to be sidelined more than six weeks with a knee injury.

Kelly Olynyk, whose minutes have been uneven recently, also is expected to play more.

Jones has been averaging 18.1 minutes per game, playing a lot of small forward and sometimes as an undersized power forward when the team goes small.

Meanwhile, Johnson is averaging 21.2 minutes, down from 27.4 and 26.6 the past two years. Olynyk’s minutes also are down, to 19.6 per game from 23.4 last season.

“JJ will probably play a little more now,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s ready for that because of his conditioning level and rhythm. The pairing with KO and Bam [Adebayo], we’ll get back to that, as well.”

If Johnson plays more, he must rebound more effectively. His rebounds are down to 3.2 per game, down from 4.9 the past two seasons and subpar for a starting power forward.

That’s 7.2 rebounds per 48 minutes, ranking 97th among 102 players who have played power forward this season. Among players who have played at least 20 games, only Anthony Tolliver has a lower rebound per 48 number among power forwards.

There had been hope that a lineup with Adebayo playing alongside Hassan Whiteside could be developed, but that hasn’t materialized. They’ve played just 14 minutes together all season and Miami has been outscored by six in those minutes.

Since the Heat drafted Adebayo, he has played 66 minutes with Whiteside and Miami has been outscored by 27 points in those minutes.

That pairing would work more effectively if Adebayo improved his outside shot. Asked what Whiteside and Adebayo need to do to make that combination more of a viable option, Spoelstra said: “We may [use that]. Bam’s skill level has gotten much better, so it might be something that we explore, but we still have some depth in the frontcourt.”

Because Jones can play either a role in the power rotation or on the perimeter, Spoelstra has flexibility to replace him.

There’s also the option of going with a three-guard lineup with three among Justise Winslow, Dwyane Wade, Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington. Rodney McGruder, now coming off the bench, also could get additional minutes behind Josh Richardson at small forward.

Tyler Johnson did not practice Tuesday because of calf soreness, leaving his status very much in doubt for Wednesday’s home game against Chicago.

Spoelstra said Johnson is “day to day” and indicated Ellington would start again if Johnson doesn’t.

“I don’t even know if he’s going to go tomorrow,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll re-evaluate.”

Did Ellington’s 19-point performance Sunday against the Knicks leave Spoelstra believing that he simply must create minutes for him, even when the team is healthy?

“It’s not like he does something that’s surprising me,” Spoelstrs said. “What it is is he’s a model of professionalism and consistency.”

Ellington said several NBA players reached out to him after Sunday’s game, though he declined to name them.

“They understand how tough it can be.[not playing and] they appreciate my efforts to stay ready and be ready for anything and be able to come in and contribute to a W,” he said.

To appreciate how diligent Ellington is about his routine, consider that he typically launches at least 300 shots on off days –a routine he maintained even when he went weeks without playing.

“The least amount is 300 shots but that can easily get up to 1000,” he said.

Did he ever consider backing off that when he was kept on the bench?

“It was never should I back off [but instead], should I add to it?” he said. “Am I doing enough? I wasn’t sure if I was prepared enough. That was my mindset, not should I back off of it.”

Ellington’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, previously conveyed to the Heat that Ellington wants to play, and Miami has explored options before next Thursday’s trade deadline, while also conveying to Ellington that he’s valued here.

But Ellington told me he and Bartelstein haven’t discussed going to the Heat about a buyout if there’s no trade.

“It’s nothing we’ve spoken about at all,” Ellington said.

Multiple contenders would pounce on Ellington is he’s bought out.

Though Jones will be out until at least mid March – and possibly longer – Spoelstra said the good news is he doesn’t need surgery on his ankle.

“We’ll re-evaluate him in six weeks, but no surgery,” Spoelstra said. “I think we were all able to eat our family dinners last night, kind of on pins and needles just waiting for his MRI to come back, and it came back clean.

“Obviously, two bone bruises, they’ll take some time. He’s young. We’re not going to rush it. It’s the best-case scenario – no surgery. Considering everything, it could’ve been a lot worse, and we really do think that a lot of the training he’s been doing behind the scenes, strength training with his legs – considerably stronger than he was in the past.

“It could’ve been worse if he didn’t have the stabilization and foundation with his legs to be able to catch it before it went worse.”

“These kind of things happen. I think he was as relieved, if not more, than his head coach. It’s natural for all of our minds to go to worst-case scenario. As soon as we got the news, everybody breathed a sigh of relief. We’ll be able to get him back.”

ESPN reported that the Pelicans will listen to offers on Anthony Davis – who has requested a trade –“but won’t make a deal before next Thursday’s NBA trade deadline unless they’re offered an overwhelming package for the franchise’s star.”

It would be surprising, at this point, if the Heat emerges as a top contender for him.

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Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.


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