Five takeaways: Miami Heat still alive after surviving at Washington, 106-103, behind James Johnson, Whiteside

Heat forward James Johnson recovers a loose ball as he goes against the Wizards’ Bojan Bogdanovic during Saturday’s game in Washington. James Johnson then fed Tyler Johnson under the basket for a layup.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – With their season on the line, the Miami Heat came up big in the final minutes Saturday at Washington.

Miami clamped down its defense and received a game winning layup from James Johnson for the 106-103 victory at the Verizon Center and giving it a bit more life in the playoff race.

Johnson received the in-bounds pass in the backcourt and attacked the basket for a spinning, finger-roll layup with 11 seconds to play to give the Heat a 104-103 lead.

Kelly Oubre, Jr. then threw away the inbounds pass, with Josh Richardson securing the loose ball. Richardson was fouled with 9.7 seconds to play and made both free throws to give the Heat a 106-103 lead.

Hassan Whiteside then tipped Bradley Beal’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“This is what our games have felt like the last three months that everything is just going down to the wire,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys put it on the line every single night. And throughout all of it, particularly some of the tough times and learning how to handle those and overcome, this team has become very gritty and very stubborn.”

The game went back and forth for the final few minutes, with Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Whiteside making big shots for the Heat.

The Heat never led by more than five points and the Wizards’ biggest lead in the second half was four points as the game had 17 lead changes and 15 ties, the final lead change on Johnson’s basket.

The play was the same that Spoelstra called in the final seconds of the win at Detroit two weeks ago. Johnson, though, settled for the jumper and missed before being bailed out by Whiteside’s game-winning tip in.

“I had nightmares about that shot I missed,” Johnson said.

Miami (39-41) is tied with Chicago for the eighth-best record in the East after the Bulls were shocked by the lowly Nets on Saturday. Chicago, though, holds the tie-breaker over the Heat. Indiana moved into the seventh spot with a win at Orlando on Saturday.

Whiteside led the Heat with 30 points and 12 rebounds. James Johnson had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Tyler Johnson added 19 off the bench.

Our five takeaways:

Whiteside rebounds: The Heat’s big man had a rough night Friday in Toronto and coach Erik Spoelstra let him know about it, chewing out Whiteside during a timeout in the third quarter. Whiteside got the message and was engaged from the start Saturday. He was 12-of-19 from the floor and closed with his 56th double-double of the season to extend his franchise record and three blocks, including what may go down as he biggest of the year on Beal.

“Coach Spo said ‘You’re defensive player of the year in my mind,”’ Whiteside said. “In my mind I was thinking when a three-time NBA championship coach tells you that it means a lot. I was thinking I wanted to guard whoever gets the ball and try to make a big block. I know Bradley Beal is very crafty. I didn’t want to leave my feet. I let my length dictate the defense.”

Playoff reset: The Heat received a little help Saturday with the Bulls the only team ahead of them losing. The Heat pulled into a tie with Chicago for the eighth spot. Indiana is No. 7, a game ahead of both teams and Milwaukee is No. 6, two games ahead of the Heat. Miami can catch any of the three by winning its two games, both at home against Cleveland (Monday) and Washington (Wednesday). But it needs either Indiana or Chicago to drop one of their final two games or Milwaukee to lose both to make the playoffs.

New power forward: James Johnson will be the starting power forward for as long as the Heat need him this season, that is for sure, the question is whether the Heat look at him as the power forward of the future. Johnson came up with the game’s (and maybe the season’s) biggest play in his third game as the starter in place of the injured Luke Babbitt. The double-double was his second in a row. Johnson now has 63 points and 25 rebounds since joining the starting lineup.

“He’s sensing the moment right now and what this team needs,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a lot of attrition. We’re not making any excuses for it. Whoever’s available we’ve got to get the job done. JJ is hard wired for that mentality and that’s why we think it’s been such a beautiful fit. The timing always has to be right on both sides, for whatever the reason it was right for him and for us this year.”

Dynamic duo a dud: The Wizards have been led by their dynamic duo backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, who entered Saturday with a combined scoring average of 46.3 points. And the Heat have been torched by high-scoring guards recently, with Portland’s Damian Lillard scoring 49 points and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan dropping 40 in Miami and 38 Friday in Toronto. The Heat, though, held Wall and Beal to 16 points apiece in a combined 11-of-33 shooting.

Spoelstra was asked what the Heat did to limit the two All-Stars: “I don’t know, I’m not saying anything about either one of them because we got to play them again,” he said, referring to Wednesday’s regular season finale in Miami between the two teams . “They’re All-World players and we have great respect for them.”

End of the road: The Heat wrapped up their regular-season road schedule Saturday in Washington. The victory boosted Miami’s final road record to 18-23, two games worse than last season but better than the 17 wins of two years ago. The Heat stepped up their game on the road the second half of the season, winning 12-of-17 starting Jan. 25. That turnaround coincided with the team’s second-half run that started at 11-30

[Think regular season games don’t matter in NBA? Erik Spoelstra says you haven’t been watching the Miami Heat]

[Five takeaways: Miami Heat rally falls short in 96-94 loss at the Toronto Raptors]

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