As Heat await MRI results on James Johnson’s ankle, Erik Spoelstra will start mulling options

Clippers forward Sam Dekker looks to pass as Miami forward James Johnson defends Saturday. Johnson was injured during the game while covering Dekker. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI – James Johnson will have an MRI on his right ankle today after being injured during Saturday’s victory over the Clippers and it appears the Heat starting power forward, and tri-captain, could miss some time.

Johnson left 5:45 seconds into the game and did not return. Following the game, coach Erik Spoelstra described it as a “lower-leg injury” and said Johnson was receiving treatment and would have an MRI today before the team leaves for Atlanta for the start of a two-game road trip.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson, who signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Heat in July, appeared to turn his right ankle while defending Clippers forward Sam Dekker as Dekker was driving to the basket. Johnson started limping immediately before hobbling to the locker room under his own power.

“James went out and everybody was like we got to come together, we go to keep competing,” said rookie Bam Adebayo, who checked in for Johnson.

Johnson has settled into the starting power forward spot and entered Saturday’s game averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 49.6 percent.

Spoelstra has several options if Johnson misses any time, and that’s with or without center Hassan Whiteside in the lineup.

Whiteside will not accompany the team on the trip, meaning he will miss the next two games – at Atlanta Monday and at Boston Wednesday – making it at least 11 games he’ll sit after suffering a second bone bruise on his left knee.

Spoelstra went with Adebayo at center and Justise Winslow at power forward in Whiteside’s absence at first. But after three games he rolled out a lineup of Kelly Olynyk at center and Johnson at power forward. That group – along with Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson – is 4-2.

Olynyk will continue to start at center with Whiteside sidelined. Spoelstra put Adebayo in Johnson’s spot to start the second half Saturday. And the emergence of 6-8 Jordan Mickey, who has 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks the last two games, gives Spoelstra another option.

Additionally, Winslow, who has missed two games with a left knee strain, is on the trip and is getting close to returning. Winslow started 13 consecutive games at power forward, alongside Whiteside, this season but appears more comfortable coming off the bench, which allows him to be used in different roles.

But what happens if Johnson is not ready when Whiteside returns? The 7-foot center was on the court Friday doing light work which means, though he’s out the next two games, he is moving closer to coming back. If Johnson is out long term, Spoelstra has even more options when Whiteside returns and could choose between four players – Olynyk, Adebayo, Mickey and Winslow – to start at power forward.

The most interesting would be if he opted for Olynyk, who has not been on the court with Whiteside since opening night when both started and played 10 minutes together.

Richardson, who scored a career-high 28 points against the Clippers, was asked about this team continuing to play through injuries.

“That’s what kind of team we are,” he said. “Every year there’s been a guy that steps up huge for us. My first year it was me. Last year it was Rodney (McGruder). This year, Jordan is stepping up, Bam is stepping up. There’s always had to be times where someone has to step up out of nowhere and be always ready.”

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