Heat Check

Johnson fills void for Heat as a stretch center

‘He’s a dynamic versatile player,’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of forward James Johnson.
‘He’s a dynamic versatile player,’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of forward James Johnson. pportal@miamiherald.com

James Johnson isn’t a center.

Until he is.

The Heat’s surprising super-utility forward found himself in a new role in the fourth quarter Monday night’s game when Erik Spoelstra — scrambling to find combinations with an injury-ravaged lineup — reached into his bag of tricks and stuck Johnson in at center.

It was a voila moment, as the Heat ended a five-game losing streak with a win over the Wizards.

“I’m open to anything right now,” Spoelstra said of the decision. “If it works, we’re going to try to maximize it.”

Not that Johnson will be taking over for Hassan Whiteside on a regular basis. But Monday’s crafty jiggering by Spoelstra helped to produce a win for the victory-starved Heat.

“James Johnson came in the game and he changed the game with his aggressive play on both ends of the floor,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks.

Which was exactly Spoelstra’s thinking.

“He’s a dynamic versatile player,” Spoelstra said of Johnson, who has blossomed into one of the Heat’s best offseason acquisitions. “Whether you’re playing him at the five or the four, we just want to try to leverage his uniqueness, his versatility, and he showed that last night.”

Johnson, who sat out the four previous games with a rotator cuff injury, came off the bench to score 14 points.

“I was super comfortable,” Johnson said of his debut at center.

Tyler Johnson said having James Johnson at center poses problems for opponents.

“He is a big-time mismatch problem because he can handle the ball,” Tyler Johnson said. “He can step back and knock it down and keep you honest. You can play him anywhere from the three to the five.”

Spoelstra praised James Johnson’s work ethic and desire to improve.

“The first step of it was getting into world-class shape and conditioning, committing to our player development program, and he did,” Spoelstra said. “He looks like a totally different player now.”

And he’s just the type of player the Heat have coveted.

“We’ve had success with big, versatile player who are position-less,” Spoelstra said. “We thought he was an intriguing, unique guy who could fit how we play. He’s made that commitment and you’re seeing some results from that.”

James Johnson has no complaints.

“Everybody who ever played for this team always says the same thing. It’s consistent, militant, but you’re going to have fun,” Johnson said.


After missing 16 straight games with a wrist injury, Justise Winslow could return to the court on Wednesday.

Winslow took part in his first full-contact practice on Tuesday.

“I don’t know if he’ll be ready to go [Wednesday],” Spoelstra said. “It was a good step, but we’ll have to see how his body responds.”

Spoelstra said Winslow, whose left wrist was wrapped, “looked fine” during Tuesday’s practice.

“I’m planning on just whoever is available tomorrow, I’m going with,” Spoelstra said.

Dion Waiters (groin strain) remains unavailable, though.

“Dion is doing better,” Spoelstra said. “He’s still not ready to practice, but he was able to do some light shooting. He’s on course. He’s making progress. He’s doing more.”

Wednesday: Pacers (13-12) at Heat (8-17)

When/where: 7 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami.

TV/radio: SUN, ESPN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

Series: Pacers lead 60-43.

Scouting report: This is the first of three meetings between Miami and Indiana this season. Monta Ellis (groin) is out and Rodney Stuckey (bruised left knee) is questionable for Indiana, which has won three of its last four games coming in.