Heat Check

The Brothers Johnson: Heat’s potent bench scoring duo shares real friendship

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) talks with teammates from left to right, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson (16) and Hassan Whiteside during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wed., Dec. 13, 2016.
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) talks with teammates from left to right, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson (16) and Hassan Whiteside during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wed., Dec. 13, 2016. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The Brothers Johnson, an R&B and funk band in the late 1970s and early 80s, had four albums go platinum and their most popular song I’ll Be Good To You reached its peak at No. 3 on the Billboard 100 charts.

But that was well before James Johnson, 30, and Tyler Johnson, 24, were born.

“I've seen the T-shirt,” Tyler said of the t-shirt the Heat began selling recently that reads “The Brothers Johnson.”

“But I didn’t know about the group though. I have to find them on the internet.”

The Heat’s version of the Brothers Johnson do not have any hit songs, but they’ve been making sweet music together all season.

After Houston’s Lou Williams and Eric Gordon (35.6 combined points per game) and Denver’s Wilson Chandler and Will Barton (29.5 points per game), there isn’t another bench duo in the league more potent than the Heat’s Johnson and Johnson (26.1 points per game).

While Williams, Gordon, Chandler and Barton have all started at least one game this year, the Johnsons haven’t started any. And that’s by design.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has wanted to keep them together coming off the bench all season to provide the Heat with a lift when the second unit hits the floor. It’s been as a big a key to Miami’s turnaround as any.

“Neither one of them probably are a candidate to be a sixth man of the year, but those two together, if they have an award for two guys off the bench, they would win it hands down,” coach Spoelstra said Wednesday after they combined for 38 points in a blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

“Their games complement each other,” Spoelstra continued. “They’re both aggressive. They’re competitors. They play on both sides of the floor. They’re friends. They live next door to each other. So, it’s all working for those two.”

Neither one of them probably are a candidate to be a sixth man of the year, but those two together, if they have an award for two guys off the bench, they would win it hands down.

Erik Spoelstra, Heat coach

James Johnson hit it off when Tyler the moment he joined the Heat last summer. During offseason workouts, Tyler would see James spending extra hours at the Heat’s facilties and eventually offered him a ride home.

“I took him home one day because he said he lived down my way, but I didn’t realize how close he really was until a few days later when I put his address in my phone,” Tyler said.

Said James: “I called an Uber from his house one time and the Uber guy showed up and said ‘I'm here, but why didn't you just walk?’ It was like two bucks or something like that. It’s good. Now, we know Pinecrest well.”

The bond grew from rides to practice to hanging out nearly all the time, Tyler said.

“We really just sit around or go to the gun range every now and then or we just enjoy our families,” Tyler said. “His family will come over. My family will come over.

“He's my brother. I don’t say it because we’re just teammates. He’s like my brother. We’re family.”

Point guard Goran Dragic had a bond like that for two seasons with Luol Deng. Then Deng hit free agency and signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s the part of the game Tyler isn’t looking forward to this summer when James, who has never made more than the $4 million he’s earning this season from the Heat, could be in line for a huge pay day after putting together a career season with Miami.

Point guard Goran Dragic had a bond like that for two seasons with Luol Deng. Then Deng hit free agency and signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I think he loves it here and obviously the team loves him, upper management loves him,” said Tyler, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal that the Heat matched to keep him from going to Brooklyn last summer.

“Obviously it’s a great situation and it’s something that could turn into something bigger than it already is as far as the court goes. I mean, we haven’t even played a full season together. But I also want what's best for him.

“He has hasn't had that pay day yet. He has it where this is the first year he’s been able to do the things he knew he was capable of doing the whole time. A lot of people always say ‘If I had more minutes or I had more playing time I could do this, this, this.’ It’s just talk. He’s one of those guys though when he said it he meant it.”

James isn’t thinking about any of that right now. There are 21 regular season games left to play. Right now, he’s enjoying the Heat’s success and the fun he’s having with Tyler coming off the bench.

“Not like this one,” James said when asked if he’s ever had a bond like this with another teammate. “Tyler, he’s definitely one of a kind. $50 million contract and he’s still playing the right way, sharing and never taking a possession off.

“Without Tyler there would be no me in the conversation. He’s a great player, great guy and we feed off each other.”

Johnson had 14 points, four rebounds and three assists in the 125-98 win over Philly on Wed., March 1, 2017.

COMING UP NEXT

Friday: Heat (28-33) at Magic (22-39)

When/where: 7 p.m. Amway Center, Orlando

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

Series: Heat leads 62-48

Scouting report: Dion Waiters (left ankle soreness) and Willie Reed (right ankle bursitis) are listed as questionable for the Heat, which has dropped the last two meetings with the Magic after crushing them 108-96 on opening night in Orlando.

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