NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Johnson jumped right into Miami’s starting lineup and right into the playoff race.
He looked completely comfortable in both.
Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Johnson made a 3-pointer on his first shot in a Heat uniform during a big game-opening run, and Miami beat the New York Knicks 98-81 on Sunday night.
Johnson was in the starting lineup a day after signing with the Heat and contributed to their 13-2 burst to start the game, a lead they never relinquished.
“You get a guy a caliber of, a player like him, you normally get that in the offseason,” Wade said. “So to be able to get it right now, as you’re going into a playoff run, is very important for this team, especially with everything that we’ve been dealing with.”
Miami had dropped two in a row but made a nice pickup during that stretch Saturday with the signing of Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who had been waived by the Brooklyn Nets after agreeing to a contract buyout.
Playing on one of the worst teams in the league a few days ago, his first time changing teams in midseason puts him on one battling for home-court advantage in the postseason.
“This is kind of new, but I’m up for it, man,” Johnson said. “It’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and every game from here on out is going to be a playoff-type game for us. We’ve got to have that mentality.”
“We just couldn’t get any sort of consistent rhythm because we couldn’t make the shots we normally make,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “It breaks your momentum, it breaks your confidence and guys couldn’t just get momentum, get the fans involved in the ballgame.”
Johnson picked the Heat in part because of his relationships with fellow veterans such as Wade and Amare Stoudemire, and because Wade talked to him about a future with the team beyond this season. Johnson fit nicely in the lineup with them while the bench got big contributions from Whiteside and Justise Winslow, who grabbed 13 rebounds.
Some loud “Let’s go Heat!” chants broke out at Madison Square Garden, where the Heat built a few big leads, let it get close a couple times, and finally pulled away to improve to 14-0 when holding opponents below 90 points.
The Knicks shot 37 percent and thought they put too much pressure on Anthony, who shot 9 for 24. Anthony said that’s understandable when players are missing shots.
“A lot of them (were) wide open that they missed,” Anthony said. “But when you’re not making, who else is there to look to to make shots and try to make shots and try to make plays? I don’t look at it as putting too much on me.”
Heat: Stoudemire had eight points and seven rebounds while playing at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Knicks bought him out at last year’s All-Star break. Signed in 2010, he received a mixed reception, which matched what he called mixed emotions. “So many familiar faces,” he said before the game. “So kind of don’t want to beat them too bad, but then again I do.”
Knicks: Starting guard Arron Afflalo sat out with a bruised right thigh. … Stoudemire’s take on the Knicks: “It’s hard for me to watch from the outside looking in because I was so involved with creating a positive atmosphere around the Knicks, but now it seems that it went the opposite way.”
Johnson’s first shot gave him 19,000 career points. He is six behind Reggie Theus for 50th place on the career list. … Wade has scored in double figures in 39 straight games against the Knicks, counting playoffs, his longest active streak against any team.
Among those choosing hardwood over Hollywood on Oscars night: Director Spike Lee, as he said he would, and actors Dustin Hoffman and Tracy Morgan, seated a few seats away in the front row.