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Joe B.

The before and after story of James Johnson’s physical transformation

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BY MANNY NAVARRO

Before he lost nearly 40 pounds, reignited his playing career and put himself in position for a big pay day this coming July, James Johnson found himself shirtless, embarrassed and a bit confused standing in front of the camera lens of an iPad inside the Heat's training facility last summer.

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    • By Joe B.

      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      The Miami HEAT host the Toronto Raptors Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Raptors 104-89 in their last meeting on March 11. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
      1: What did the HEAT do well to get back on track against the Suns?
      Couper Moorhead: They played defense. Granted the starters came out a little slow on that end but once the bench unit was in towards the end of the first quarter the Suns were held to an offensive rating below 90 the rest of the way. Phoenix isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse this time of year – Eric Bledsoe is being held out – and had plenty of unforced turnovers of their own but the opponent isn’t always the most important thing when it comes to getting back to your own established habits. Miami probably could have beat the Suns on Tuesday with scoring alone, but working on their game will help them in the long run with tougher opponents coming up.
      Joe Beguiristain: After a slow start to the contest, the HEAT got things going in the second quarter to take control of the game. In particular, Wayne Ellington caught fire towards the end of the period and helped Miami jump out to a 13-point lead at halftime. From that point on, the HEAT locked-in defensively (especially Hassan Whiteside) and held the Suns to just 39.5 percent shooting. Other than Whiteside, both Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson defended Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker quite well. In fact, Johnson led the team with five steals and helped Miami get some easy buckets in transition (the HEAT ended up with 19 fast break points on the night). In other words, Miami took care of business on its home floor against a depleted Phoenix squad. 
      2: Since Toronto didn’t have Kyle Lowry in the last meeting, what can we take away from that game?
      Couper: That the Raptors, despite an impressive comeback win over Chicago on Tuesday, miss Kyle Lowry. Last time these teams played the Raptors were playing on a back-to-back, which is always a factor, but despite a 26-point first quarter the Raptors never really seemed to get much of an offensive rhythm going as DeMar DeRozan was asked to do a ton of shot creation. Through the first three quarters, before the Raptors essentially played their bench the rest of the way, Toronto’s expected effective field-goal percentage, based on shot quality, was 47.6 – a number that would rank last in the league.
      Additionally, Toronto will be without the services of Serge Ibaka on Thursday. Ibaka was given a one-game suspension after an on-court incident with Robin Lopez on Tuesday.
      Joe: In that last matchup, the HEAT dominated the Raptors in nearly every facet. Six players scored in double-figures for Miami, while the team also held Toronto to just 37.5 percent shooting. Like Coup stated above, the Raptors did have some trouble initiating offense with Lowry out.
      As a whole, Toronto’s offense has dipped with its floor general out of the lineup. Before the All-Star Break, the team ranked fourth in offensive rating at 110.9 points per 100 possessions. In the 14 games since then without Lowry, the Raptors are ranked 16th with a 105.7 rating. Luckily, their defense has improved enough for them to go 9-5 since the break. New addition P.J. Tucker has had a lot to do with that, as the versatile forward is holding the opposition to 6.5 percentage points less than their usual field goal percentage since joining Toronto. We’ll see how things transpire on Thursday night.
      3: If Miami is without Hassan Whiteside (hand laceration), how will Miami adjust?
      Couper: Likely as they always have this season, with Willie Reed starting and heavy doses of James Johnson as a small-ball center. This isn’t the easiest matchup for that configuration considering Jonas Valanciunas is a load to deal with and Toronto can put out just as many versatile lineups as Miami with Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and new arrival P.J. Tucker. Even if Ibaka isn’t available, the Raptors can still play small with Miami. And of course Udonis Haslem is always an option, one that Erik Spoelstra can trust to adhere to the defensive system as well as anyone.
      Joe: If Whiteside can’t play on Thursday night, we’ll likely see Willie Reed in the starting lineup. In his five starts this season, Reed has averaged 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 68.6 percent shooting. After practice on Wednesday, the 26-year-old stated that his role doesn’t change in the starting lineup and that it’s still about bringing energy.
      “It’s not about the points. It’s about the energy that I can bring to the team, you know, holding down the inside [and] the paint, rebounding and trying to provide what Hassan provides.”
      Things will be tough with a skilled big in Jonas Valanciunas on the other side, but Reed has the mental makeup to get the job done.
      INJURY UPDATE: Coach Spo said Whiteside (hand) was a full participant in Thursday morning's shootaround and still intends to play.

      Highlights:
      March 11-Raptors at HEAT
      November 4-HEAT at Raptors
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT have won three of four and are 35-36 on the year. The Raptors have won four of five and stand at 42-29. Miami is 16-3 at home in 2017. DeMar DeRozan leads Toronto in scoring at 27.0 points per game.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 105.1 (17) HEAT Defense: 104.0 (5) Raptors Offense: 109.9 (5) Raptors Defense: 105.3 (10)
    • By Joe B.

      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      At 3:30 PM EST, I will ask a trivia question for a pair of tickets to tomorrow night’s game against the Raptors. Please keep in mind that you must be at least 18-years-old in order to qualify and must reside in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach or Monroe County. Also, you are ineligible if you've already won tickets this calendar month.
      Please only play/answer if you can attend and qualify based on these rules.
    • By Joe B.

      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      The Miami HEAT defeated the Phoenix Suns 112-97 Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Hassan Whiteside led the way for the HEAT with 23 points. Click here for the full recap on HEAT.com. 
    • By Joe B.

      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      The Miami HEAT host the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Suns 99-90 in their last meeting on January 3. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
      1: What did you take away from Miami’s loss to Portland on Sunday?
      Couper Moorhead: That Damian Lillard is incredible, mostly. Watching Lillard expertly navigate the pick-and-roll, pulling up for effortless split-second threes and then threading passes to a rolling Jusuf Nurkic when Miami attempted to pressure higher on the floor was reminiscent of Steph Curry last season. Of course we can’t make that comparison if the shots aren’t falling as well and Lillard delivered with 9-of-12 from three and 49 points on 21 shots. In short, it was as good an offensive performance as you’ll see all year and a surprisingly energetic defensive one as well, especially considering Portland was on a back-to-back.
      On Miami’s side, their defense wasn’t quite as active as it had been lately and a number of players being in foul trouble didn’t help, but in the bigger picture it was clear there might be a bit of an adjustment period to playing without Dion Waiters. We’ll get to that in a moment.
      Joe Beguiristain: While the HEAT played well offensively for the most part, their defense wasn’t quite up to par. In particular, Damian Lillard had one heck of a performance, as he nearly tallied a career high and finished with 49 points on 14-of-21 shooting. Although the HEAT could have done a better job of defending him in the pick-and-roll, Lillard was in such a zone that it might not have made a difference.
      That said, Miami understands that it needs to get back to its identity and lock-in on the defensive end. From Erik Spoelstra to James Johnson, that message was echoed often after practice on Monday. With Phoenix struggling mightily on the offensive end as of late (especially with a bunch of key contributors out of the lineup), expect the HEAT to apply a lot of pressure from the get-go.  
      2: What changes have there been to the Suns roster lately?
      Couper: There’s been quite a few. Eric Bledsoe has been shut down for the rest of the season, as has Tyson Chandler. Brandon Knight has been experiencing back spasms and, as of now, doesn’t appear to be expected to play. Dragan Bender had ankle surgery in early February and has yet to return. And Devin Booker has also had an ankle injury and its unclear if he’ll be able to play Tuesday night. However you slice it, this isn’t going to be the same Phoenix team that beat Miami back in early January.
      Joe: Coup pretty much hit the nail on the head. The Suns have a multitude of guys either shut down for the season or nursing injuries. As such, Head Coach Earl Watson rolled with a starting unit of Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and Alen Len in Phoenix’s last game against the Pistons on March 19.
      Of those players, Warren and Chriss have been mainstays in the starting lineup for most of the year. Not to mention, they’ve also stepped up in the absence of a lot of the Suns’ playmakers. In fact, Warren is averaging 17.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game on 58.3 percent shooting since the All-Star Break. Chriss meanwhile, is posting 12.0 points, 5.3 boards and 1.8 blocks per contest on 52.2 percent shooting over that same timespan. 
      3: Are there any further adjustments you expect Miami to make with Dion Waiters out?
      Couper: Miami still managed to post 110.9 points per 100 possessions against Portland, but there clearly wasn’t as much of a rhythm or flow to the execution as there had been for most of the past two months. Just 43 percent of the HEAT’s baskets were assisted as whenever Goran Dragic was off the floor the offense often became James Johnson attacking from the perimeter and bullying his way to the rim. Johnson did that quite well, shooting 9-of-13, but it’s also the type of offense that becomes easier to defend the more often it’s used and more predictable it becomes. Not only did Miami miss Waiters’ dribble-penetration, spray passing and ability to space the floor off the ball, but he also gives Erik Spoelstra a playmaking option to stagger with Dragic so that, along with Miami’s bench, there are always multiple ballhandlers on the floor. Moving forward, we may see Spoelstra experiment a bit with the rotation to try and keep the ball moving. Or, as is often the case, Miami will simply have to be better on that end and work harder to adhere to their habits without one of the players who makes things work.
      Joe: In addition to getting back to their defensive principles, I expect the HEAT to try and get the ball moving a bit more on offense. After dishing out 29 assists in an offensive explosion against Minnesota, Miami had just 18 against Portland. Keep in mind that when the HEAT tally at least 26 assists, they’re 7-3 this season.
      You know Goran Dragić and James Johnson are going to attack the paint and collapse the defense, but Miami’s other wings also have to do their part and help set up their teammates too. Luckily enough, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson have had their moments over the past few weeks. T. Johnson tallied a career-high nine assists against the Pelicans on March 15, while Richardson has gradually improved since his return to the lineup from a foot injury. We’ll see if both guards can create a little bit more off the dribble to make up for the absence of Dion Waiters. 

      Highlights:
      January 3-HEAT at Suns
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT have won two of three and are 34-36. The Suns have dropped four straight and enter the contest at 22-48. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (20.3) and assists (6.0) per game. Alex Len leads Phoenix with 1.2 blocks per contest.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 105.1 (16) HEAT Defense: 104.3 (6) Suns Offense: 103.8 (23) Suns Defense: 108.8 (26)  
       
    • By Joe B.

      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
      At 3:45 PM EST, I will ask a trivia question for a pair of tickets to tomorrow night’s game against the Suns. Please keep in mind that you must be at least 18-years-old in order to qualify and must reside in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach or Monroe County. Also, you are ineligible if you've already won tickets this calendar month.
      Please only play/answer if you can attend and qualify based on these rules.