Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on James Johnson: ‘We’ll ride with him’

Heat forward James Johnson reacts after fouling Nuggets forward Paul Millsap as Millsap took a 3-point shot with 11 seconds to play Friday in Denver. Millsap made all three free throws for the game-winning points in the Nuggets’ 95-94 victory. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Dion Waiters’ potential game winner rattled in and out but nobody felt worse than James Johnson about the Heat’s 95-94 loss at Denver Friday to kick off their season-long six-game road trip.

The Heat held a two-point lead when Johnson did the inexcusable. … foul a three-point shooter, with 11 seconds to play.

Paul Millsap stepped to the line, knocked down all three, and the Nuggets survived.

“I tried to shoot the gap, he got a little step on me,” Johnson told Fox Spots Sun following the game. “Great players are going to do great things sometimes in situations like that and Paul Millsap did.

“It’s still running through my head, I feel bad for those guys. We were playing really hard out there.”

The foul was Johnson’s sixth, ending a game in which the tri-caption recorded his first double-double of the season – 15 points, 10 rebounds – and added four assists. Johnson, who returned after missing one game because of tendinitis in his right knee, missed his first shot of the game – and airball from 3-point land – and then made each of the five he took the rest of the way, including 3-of-4 three pointers. Johnson entered the game 3-of-17 on threes for the season.

“Obviously, you want stay down, you don’t want to jump until after he jumps,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But (Millsap) is a clever player. Heat of the moment, he got him on a shot fake.

“But JJ made some big plays down the stretch. We wouldn’t be in that position without JJ making some of those big plays. We’ll ride with him and we’ll always, through all of this.”

Johnson thought Waiters had bailed him out. The Heat guard had to give up the ball to Josh Richardson after temporarily losing it and by the time he got it back he didn’t have time to take it to the basket.

“I was going to attack and right before I’m trying to get to my spot I lost it and I had to kick it to J-Rich and get it back,” Waiters said. “By the time I did all that it was like five (seconds remaining).”

Waiters settled for a 23-footer and the shot look good upon release. In fact, Johnson said he and the rest of him teammates were “already doing the Philly cheese,” a reference to Waiters’ hometown of Philadelphia.

“I thought it dropped,” Johnson said. “That’s basketball. I felt like we shouldn’t have been in that predicament anyway.”

Goran Dragic watched the shot from the corner.

“It seemed like it was already in the cylinder but it went out,” he said.

Waiters, whose most notable game-winner was a 3-pointer last season against the Warriors, said it’s something you live with and move on.

“It sucks,” he said. “We put ourselves in a position to win. Coming down the stretch we just got to do a better job of knowing what’s going on, what guys like to do, put ourselves in a better situation.”

The Heat now move onto to Los Angeles for the start of a very difficult back-to-back. Miami plays the Clippers on Sunday before heading to Oakland to face the Warriors on Monday. The trip, then, is just half over.

“We’ll gather ourselves, connect and get ready for a big game Sunday,” Spoelstra said.

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