MIAMI – Heat captain James Johnson is being honest about his play this season.
“I’m killing myself every night, every day,” he said Thursday before Miami traveled to Washington D.C. for Friday’s game against the Wizards.
“It’s just been terrible performances out of me and not just from an offensive standpoint, the defense. I can put my prints on the game better on the defensive end. Our second unit, Tyler (Johnson) and me we should come in and have that same affect we had last year and we haven’t been able to do that.”
Point guard, and fellow captain, Goran Dragic, believes the 6-foot-8 Johnson is pressing, possibly trying to live up to the four-year, $60 million contract he signed this summer.
“He’s putting too much pressure on himself and that’s what we want to eliminate, those thoughts. Just go out there, don’t think too much, play free and only good things are going to happen,” Dragic said.
“I talk to him a lot, I already tell him ‘Don’t put pressure on yourself.’ He’s set, he signed the deal and we need him to be back to his old JJ, not to put too much pressure about the contract or what people expect. I already told him ‘Be you, how you (were) last year, that’s how you should play. Relax like you did last year, try to make plays on defense, offense.’ We feel like he’s closer every game.”
The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off another uneven performance with five points on 1-of-5 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two turnovers in Miami’s 102-93 home loss to Washington on Wednesday. He now has had three games in which he has scored five or fewer points, something that happened twice in the final 58 games of last season.
Johnson’s numbers are similar to last season – 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in 13 games this season compared to last year’s 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists – but the impact he’s had on games has not been the same.
“It’s just me,” Johnson said when asked if he could pinpoint any reason for the struggles.
“I’m not giving into the team, I’m not giving into the guys. That’s not like me and that’s not my character. I just got to step up.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra believes the player that earned that contract with a breakout season in 2016-17 will return soon.
“We believe in James and JJ is such an important piece to our team because of his versatility on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “I want him to focus on his strengths right now.”
Spoelstra listed those strengths as leadership, defense and ability to facilitate offense.
“And then from there it can grow just like it did last year,” Spoelstra said. “But right now simplify it to those things I think will really help him. It’s still early. He cares and he wants to do the right play. He’s a giving player. He wants to do the right thing for the guys. I think it will work itself out if we simplify his mind.”