That has left the 31-year-old forward as confounded as those trying to figure what has happened to the fulcrum of the best of times for the team.
“I’ve just been inconsistent, trying to find my rhythm, trying to find my place on this team again and trying to figure everything back out,” he said as the Heat turned their attention to Friday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum, the fifth stop on this season-longest six-game trip. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball and I’ve got to go out and play.”
After a seeming breakout performance with 18 points in Saturday’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Heat’s fourth victory in five games, there was a scoreless outing in Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and then a pedestrian nine points, two rebounds and one assist in Wednesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz.
While the minutes have been limited as he works his way back from May surgery for a sports hernia, he also is making that part of the equation simple for coach Erik Spoelstra.
“We have to work together to help him,” Spoelstra said. “He’s got to work to find a way to help the team. But we knew it was going to be a process and we know how important he is to our success.”
Johnson made his season debut Nov. 18, now 12 games into his comeback. While the expectation was it would take a month to regain his timing, he often has looked sluggish and out of sync.
“It’s a lot harder when you’re on the road,” he said of working his way back. “You can’t really get a gym and shoot it out and work on your craft and try to work out things you did wrong and try to find a rhythm in the gym, by yourself, when no one’s watching.”
Teammates, of course, are watching, and pulling for a turnaround that is essential to the rest of the roster.
“Obviously I feel for him, because I know what he’s capable of,” guard Tyler Johnson said. “But, at the same time, he’s the type of person that doesn’t want anybody feeling bad for him. It’s not a matter of us, especially me, patting him on the back, because he knows what he’s capable of.”
When the Heat are at their best, it often is because James Johnson is at his best.
“He knows that. He knows that,” Tyler Johnson said. “And I think that’s where the frustration comes in, because sitting out that long and wanting it all to come back right away is very difficult.
“He’s still getting his feet under him from an injury that you’re debilitated, where you’re not even allowed to run, you’re not even allowed to be on your feet.”
The adjustment for James Johnson has been about more than his post-surgical footing.
“It’s just hard, because coming back, they’re playing me a little different now,” he said. “I’ve got to watch more film and figure it out, but it’s harder for me to trigger guys and get guys going.
“They’re backing up a lot more, going under, switching things that I used to punish ’em for. Right now, I’m just trying to find my right way on this team and find out what’s needed of me and, at the same time, still build my confidence in my game.”
And get back to the most meaningful minutes.
“My goal is to start playing in the fourth quarter,” he said. “I know I’m not there yet and I know that’s a big responsibility, but I’m willing to work hard and try to get that back.”
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