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What does James Johnson’s return mean for the Miami Heat?

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James Johnson is ready to make his season debut for the Miami Heat. What difference will it make for struggling team?

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

James Johnson is ready to make his season debut for the Miami Heat. After having hernia surgery before the season, he’s been making great progress and will return without a minutes restriction.

He’s listed as probable for Sunday night against the L.A. Lakers. So, he’s either ready or will be this week.

And the Miami Heat need his help after starting the season 6-9. Johnson has been an off and on starter for the Heat over the last three seasons at power forward. So far this season the Heat have used both Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow as starters there as well as Derrick Jones Jr.

The expectation is that Johnson will return and be an immediate impact. He’s a playmaker with the ball and is able to settle an offense. Last year he averaged 10.8 PPG on 50% shooting. He adds another layer of depth to the Heat. It also allows them to move Jones Jr. out of the rotation.

That may not be popular because Derrick Jones Jr. offers some great highlights and he provides a lot of energy. But he’s a liability as an interior defender (primary, not secondary), and he’s a question mark night in and out with what you will get. Johnson should be much a more stable player. If he eventually makes his way back into the starting lineup, it allows Winslow to return to the second unit.

That’s significant because it would allow the Heat better spacing in the first unit. When you have Hassan Whiteside and Winslow in the game, the spacing shrinks because defenses don’t “mind” either of them taking shots from distance. Johnson would help that situation because, although just a 30% shooter last year from deep, he is capable of doing more with the ball and he’s more of a threat to make a play.

Also, pairing Winslow in the second unit alongside Dwyane Wade has always been a better plan for the Heat.

James Johnson won’t fix all the problems the Heat have being 6-9. But he will help them be a better team. It’s been hard to judge them without Johnson because he averaged 32 minutes per game in the first round series against Philadelphia...so clearly he is an important piece of what the Heat are trying to do.

His return will move the needle forward for the Heat, but until they get mostly healthy we won’t know what they truly are. The Heat were right at .500 before Wade sidelined himself, and now injuries to Dragic have slowed them more.

More than Johnson’s return, the Heat need health all around to make the biggest difference. They are a team built on role players, and when a few of them are missing, the gap is too big to close on a consistent basis.

But welcome back James Johnson, you have been missed.