Heat’s James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside working way back into game shape

MIAMI – For weeks it seemed whenever a Heat player returned from injury another was shelved.

Perhaps that cycle ended Wednesday.

Miami welcomed back one of its captains and certainly a player with as much heart as any on the team when James Johnson finally was cleared by doctors – and coach Erik Spoelstra – to return. The 30-year-old forward came off the bench to score 16 points and corralled four rebounds in 24 minutes as Heat the defeated Detroit for their ninth victory in 13 games.

Johnson had missed 6-of-7 games because of bursitis in his right ankle. He attempted to play in the middle of that stretch and that did not go well, having to come out after eight minutes. After a relatively pain-free game against the Pistons, the only hurdle to clear was seeing how he felt Thursday morning.

And the news was all good.

Miami Heat’s James Johnson passes over Detroit Pistons’ Luke Kennard during Heat’s victory Wednesday in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“It felt great,” Johnson said. “I still did my early morning treatment, all the activation stuff. Waking up it wasn’t sore at all so that’s a great sign.”

As for conditioning, Johnson remained at the level he achieved last season that earned him a four-year, $60 million contract from the Heat in July.

Still, staying in shape is one thing. Transferring that to game shape is another.

“His condition level is phenomenal,” Spoelstra said. “It’s the game minutes. That’s always different than riding 100 miles on the bike and running on the alter-G. There’s nothing like game action.

“You can tell he’s not 100 percent with his timing and fluidity but he brings us such another big layer of versatility on both ends of the court. We become a totally different basketball team when he’s out there.”

Johnson felt so good Wednesday that after the buzzer sounded he hit the weight room for more work.

“I felt like it wasn’t enough for the conditioning wise where I wanted to be,” he said. “Get a lift in. Ride the bike a couple of miles.”

Hassan Whiteside is going through the same process of regaining his game conditioning. The Heat center has played four games since missing 13 because of a bruised knee and averaged 20.9 minutes per game.

Whiteside played 17:04 Wednesday, mainly because of foul trouble, but asked to come out after the first 5:45 of the fourth quarter and did not return.

“I thought that was his best stretch of basketball right there at the beginning of the fourth and that’s how hard we want him going and competing right from the get go,” Spoelstra said. “He played about four or five minutes straight and he was exhausted but he was going that hard, emptied the tank.

“That has to become an absolute habit. He has that habit. He’s still getting into rhythm and getting into game speed of a real NBA game that’s different than practice.”

Spoelstra, who pulled Whiteside just four minutes into the third quarter without the center picking up a foul, was asked Thursday if that meant he had an issue with Whiteside’s effort earlier in the game.

“It was tough to get a gage with the foul trouble,” he said. “I thought his motor was where we liked it, for sure.”

Whiteside did not return after coming out midway through the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

“Coach is always saying, ‘If you ain’t asking for a sub you’re not rolling hard enough,”’ Whiteside said. “I was putting it all out there. I asked for a quick breather. Those guys were playing great. I didn’t need to go back out the there. Kelly was playing amazing. We got the win that’s all I cared about.”

Whiteside said he lost 10 pounds, down to 255, during the month he was rehabbing.

“I can run on the treadmill and ride a bike all day,” Whiteside said. “It’s a lot different than minutes in an actual game.”

He equated it to a month of two-a-days.

“I come in, I ride 10 to 13 miles on a bike. … run in the pool and then I come in later at night time and do pretty much the same thing,” he said. “Those calories you’re burning them up.”

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