James Johnson shines in first start of the season

Mar 17, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) reacts during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) reacts during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the Miami Heat started James Johnson in place of the injured Luke Babbitt for the first time this season. The move paid off.

Welcome to the Hot Hand, where after every Miami Heat game win or loss we recognize the player who best put his stamp on the game. 

In a win the Miami Heat desperately needed, at a point in the season that Erik Spoelstra called “go time,” the coach turned to one of his best bench players as James Johnson entered the starting lineup for the first time this season with Luke Babbitt out with a hip injury.

The results were record-setting as the Heat’s 112-99 win in Charlotte saw them cash in on a franchise record 21 three-pointers on their way to snapping a two-game losing streak and getting back into eighth in the Eastern Conference. Johnson accounted for six of those three-pointers on seven attempts on his way to a 26-point night, tying a season high.

Johnson made the most of his first starting opportunity of the year by making his first three shots of the night and leading the Heat, along with Goran Dragic who turned in 31 points, to an early lead against a Hornets team fighting for their playoff lives.

The separation came early in the third quarter as both teams traded baskets for the majority of the first half. With the Heat clinging to a two-point lead, they exploded during a 19-4 run giving them a lead they would never relinquish.

Hassan Whiteside found his place in the game after a scoreless first half and Johnson, Dragic and Josh Richardson all found different ways to score as the Heat offense showed a scoring burst while the defense clamped down on Charlotte.

But the Hornets would certainly get close, cutting the lead to eight early in the fourth quarter. When James Johnson threw a bad cross-court pass that found Nicolas Batum, it looked as if they’d get even closer.

Batum, traveling to the rim uncontested, was suddenly met by a hustling Johnson causing him to miss the dunk. The next time down the floor, Johnson would hit a three and evaporate any momentum the Hornets may have had.

Segments like that have endeared Johnson to Heat fans and made him vital to their winning ways in the second half of the season and especially tonight, where Johnson and Whiteside led the team with a +23.

“My mindset was win and win by any means necessary,” Johnson said after the game. “I know the guys have my back and I know they felt comfortable with the decision [to start].”

Next: Ranking the Heat’s best-case first round playoff matchups

Johnson’s career revival continues, adding another chapter tonight as he helped the Heat get off to a good start in a must-win situation, something that Spoelstra and the coaching staff will surely keep in their back pocket come playoff time.