Ethan J. Skolnick

Joe Johnson debuts, young trio shines in Heat's win over Knicks

Miami Heat forward Joe Johnson, playing in his first game with the Heat, gestures as he runs down court in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. Johnson had 12 points as the Heat defeated the Knicks 98-81.
Miami Heat forward Joe Johnson, playing in his first game with the Heat, gestures as he runs down court in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. Johnson had 12 points as the Heat defeated the Knicks 98-81. AP

There’s always been a trend toward the tried and tested and true in Miami during Pat Riley’s reign, a preference for the proven, for those who have already worked off their warts elsewhere. But this is not a typical Heat team, especially not now, in light of all the turbulence it has encountered.

And so, sure, four of Sunday’s five starters — including the newest, Joe Johnson — were in their 30s, and the other, Goran Dragic, is less than three months away. But while each of them offered something of significance in this 98-81 win against the reeling New York Knicks, led by Wade’s 26 points with Johnson offering 12 in support, the reserve trio of relative neophytes offered plenty as well.

In fact, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside — two rookies and a player with only slightly more experience — were on the floor in the second half, when the Heat slipped some, but then stabilized and started to pull away.

After the game, coach Erik Spoelstra referred to that unit, which also included starters Dragic and Luol Deng, as a “speed” group, and he wasn’t quick to remove it.

Spoelstra played only eight players, with no minutes for Josh McRoberts or Gerald Green — the latter’s first absence because of coach’s decision after missing some games by organizational decision after an incident at his condo building. He played Winslow (36), Richardson (30) and Whiteside (26) a combined 92 minutes, and was rewarded with 13 rebounds from Winslow, eight points and a plus-9 from Richardson, as well as 16 points and 11 rebounds from Whiteside.

For Winslow and Whiteside, it has been common to play major minutes, but this is new for Richardson and wasn’t exactly planned — it took Mario Chalmers getting traded and then Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih getting injured. After Saturday’s win, Tyler Johnson spent the postgame session filming Winslow and Richardson as the fast friends conducted their interviews.

“It’s just cool for me and Josh, especially being rookies, and just the amount of work we put in, trying to learn and adjust to the NBA,” Winslow said. “And you’re just kind of stuck together, doing rookie stuff. It’s cool to both be developing and be effective out there.”

When Udrih was hurt, Winslow sent Richardson a text that told the second-round pick it was his time. Richardson has been a fast study in a number of ways, as he has played 86 minutes over the past three games. But he still has some room to catch Winslow.

“I’m Rook 1,” Winslow said. “He’s Rook 2. I’m Rook 1 by like three hours.”

That’s a reference to going in the first round last June.

“Rook 1 by like 30 picks,” Richardson said.

And a bit wiser. For instance, it wasn’t Winslow who put his stuff in the locker between his and Udonis Haslem in Boston, prompting Haslem to pen a lengthy note, calling it “unacceptable,” that was above Richardson’s stall when the media entered on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Winslow said.

Richardson laughed.

“I learned it,” Richardson said. “The hard way, but I learned it. Gotta respect it. If there’s one person you don’t mess with, it’s probably UD. I’m just gonna take that for what it is and move on.”

If you moved to the opposite side of the happy visiting locker room Sunday, you’d have found Whiteside in the corner. Against the Knicks, he became only the second player since 2010, after Greg Monroe, to record double-doubles in five consecutive games off the bench. He has done it in every game that he has played since the All-Star break.

And the guy who calls himself different has been doing it somewhat differently, draining his free throws and even a few jumpers. He made a couple to stop Knicks’ runs.

“I told you, I’m very comfortable,” Whiteside said. “I put in the hours. It’s not going to guarantee I make every one. But I put in the work to be a good jump-shooter. Teams, they contest it. But it’s always going to be there, I guess, because I’m so tall.”

On Saturday, he was out there with the veterans some, but with the kids even more.

“I mean, I can play with them, I can play with the older guys,” Whiteside said. “It’s just different.”

There’s that word again.

“They play more with their youth,” said Whiteside, the oldest of the trio at 26. “We’re really big on defense and pushing the ball.”

The older guys start the engine.

The younger ones get it revving.

It’s a different look, in the Heat’s different sort of push for the playoffs.

Ethan J. Skolnick: 305-376-3483, @ethanjskolnick

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