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James Johnson still waiting to make season debut with Heat

Before James Johnson makes his return, he has a few benchmarks to reach.

The Heat power forward has missed the entire preseason and the first 13 games of the regular season, including Monday’s contest against the 76ers, after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia in May. He has been practicing with the team for about a month and looks to be moving closer to a return, but there are still a few boxes he has to check before making his season debut.

“I got to get to a certain body fat, got to get to a certain weight,” Johnson said when asked what’s holding him back from playing. “Those goals also help me perform to my best abilities.”

This is normal Heat procedure with injured players. The idea behind it is a player who’s in top shape is less likely to suffer a setback.

“I want to be in the best shape, and it requires a lot,” said Johnson, who is in the second season of the four-year, $60 million contract he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017. “I’m just happy I have a GM, head coach and training staff that push me to get there and see the best in my abilities when I am at that weight.

“When I come back, I’m not trying to be on a minutes restriction. I feel like I’m getting all the way healthy. So when I’m able to play, I want to play.”

Johnson, 31, already became one of the Heat’s weight-loss success stories in his first season with the organization. He stood at 275 pounds with 14.5 percent body fat when he signed with the team prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, and later trimmed down to a more sculpted 238 pounds and 6.75 percent body fat.

Johnson doesn’t have that much weight to lose this time. But the goal is still the same, drop weight and cut body fat.

“Whenever he makes that next step, we want him to make that step without any kind of setbacks,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

A setback is what the Heat is trying to avoid with Johnson and Dion Waiters, who has also yet to play this season as he continues to recover from January ankle surgery.

“That’s what we don’t want,” Johnson said. “So, like I said, get to what my goal weight is and my goal body fat, I think there will be less chance of a setback.”

Dragic playing through pain

Don’t ask point guard Goran Dragic how he’s feeling because he doesn’t want to go into details. He just wants to play.

“I’m OK,” Dragic said in advance of Monday’s game agaist the 76ers.

In his return from a right knee injury that forced him to miss two games, the Heat’s starting point guard finished Saturday’s loss to the Wizards with zero points on 0-for-7 shooting in 21 minutes. It’s the first time Dragic has been held scoreless since he was traded to the Heat in February 2015.

Dragic also missed the Heat’s loss to the Hawks on Nov. 3 with a right foot injury.

“He’s a warrior. I think he needed that extra day yesterday, for sure,” Spoelstra said of Dragic in advance of Monday’s contest. “I won’t ask him if he’s 100 percent. He wants to be out there. He knows how important these games are. He’s as tough as they come. We just have to make sure — and that’s what we’re doing with the training staff — that he’s safe to play.”

While Dragic played Monday, the Heat remained without Dwyane Wade (personal reasons), Johnson and Waiters. Wade told the Associated Press on Sunday that he will miss at least another week before resuming his final Heat season to continue bonding with and caring for his newborn daughter.

“As much time as he needs,” Spoelstra said when asked about Wade’s absence. “Obviously, this is an incredible blessing for he and [wife Gabrielle Union-Wade]. Now I actually can relate to it for the first time in my life. We’re thrilled for them. Like I said before, it’s on now. He has a daughter.”

Whiteside’s big week draws attention

Heat center Hassan Whiteside was among the finalists for the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week award that went to Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.

Whiteside averaged 18.3 points, 18 rebounds, two assists and 5.7 blocks in three games last week. Miami recorded a 1-2 record in those games.

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