MIAMI – Heat power forward James Johnson admitted Monday he’s more comfortable coming off the bench.
Johnson struggled in Miami’s first two preseason games, both of which he started, and showed more life in his two games as a reserve, including Monday’s win over the Hornets. In both games, Kelly Olynyk got the start at power forward alongside center Hassan Whiteside.
“I think it was my comfort zone,” said Johnson, who came off the bench for all but five of his 76 games last season. “Just being comfortable in what we did last year and playing with those guys. It’s something I’ve got to work on. I’ve got a new role when I start and I’ve just got to figure it out and figure out to be better.”
With coach Erik Spoelstra not committed yet to either lineup, Johnson, one of the team’s most versatile players, said he’s got to do even more if he winds up in the starting lineup.
“More rebounding,” he said. “I’ve got to do more different things to contribute to that first unit. That’s what I’m talking about working on. I need to help Hassan rebound. That also allows my bust outs and lets (Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters) run the floor. Then I can get us into sets from there. Other than that, let them handle the ball and be who they are.”
Johnson scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first two games. He played 39 minutes, missed all four of his 3-point shots and had three assists and three turnovers. His minus-19 was the worst of the team.
Spoelstra said he saw a big improvement the last two games as Johnson played 51 minutes, scoring 21 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists with just one turnover.
“He came in with a tremendous amount of energy and showed his dynamic versatility,” Spoelstra said following Saturday’s game in Orlando. “He was making plays off the dribble. He was setting other guys up. He was guarding 1 through 4.
“JJ at his best does so many different things that help your team. Some of them show up on box scores some of them don’t. He was much more comfortable last game.
“I’m not concerned about JJ. He’s so selfless right now. He’s trying to make sure everybody else feels comfortable.”
Although the position is a work in progress, Johnson sounded as if his vote would be for Olynyk to start.
“I love it,” he said about a lineup with 7-footers Olynyk and Whiteside. “I love the way Kelly plays and I think he’s a good attribute to Hassan out there. He rebounds, plays hard, he’s physical. I think that’s the main reason why Hassan was able to get a lot more rebounds. Guys are trying to keep Kelly off the boards.”
Spoelstra was asked what he thought about the two big men playing side-by-side.
“I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “Kelly has a different skill set and his ability to shoot and play make off the dribble. We like that. We feel that’s a great fit and can be a good fit with our second unit or he can play alongside Hassan.”
Saturday marked the first time this preseason they were on the floor together.
“It’s not like we went with two power centers and are trying to beat somebody up down low circa 1995,” Spoelstra said. “That wasn’t the lineup at all. The more important thing was I thought their skill set complements each other and having Kelly out there regardless of the lineup helps your flow because of his IQ and his unique skill set.”
The starters were on the floor together for about 15 minutes on Saturday. The result was much better in the second half as the unit went on an 11-0 run early in the third quarter and outscored the Magic, 17-8, before Spoelstra went to his bench. On Monday, that group outscored the Hornets by seven points combined at the start of the game and second half.