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Ennis, Johnson hopeful after painful summer experiences; Dolphins, Heat notes; Marlins interview manager

Tyler Johnson left NBA Summer League with his jaw broken. James Ennis left with his spirit seemingly broken.

But both are healed, Johnson physically and Ennis mentally and physically, and each now looks to secure jobs on the bottom of the Heat’s roster.

Johnson appears very likely to make the team, with half of his $845,059 salary already guaranteed.

There’s less certainty with Ennis, whose entire $845,059 salary would become guaranteed if he’s on the roster on Oct. 28, when Miami opens the regular season against visiting Charlotte.

If Ennis impresses in training camp, he figures to stick, though it’s possible the Heat could restructure the guarantee deadline for a second time this summer.

If Ennis struggles, the Heat could release him and go with 14 players or sign a player released by another team.

The Heat’s 16th through 20th players are considered journeymen or D-League types, with forward Greg Whittington perhaps the best equipped for compete for a roster spot among those five long shots. The Heat, at the moment, isn’t inclined to sign a veteran such as Gerald Wallace.

Late in Summer League in Las Vegas, Ennis sat inside the bowels of Cox Pavilion after a game in mid-July, as despondent as any athlete could ever be in this type of setting.

“It seems like I haven’t gotten better. I have no answers right now. I don’t have a clue,” he bemoaned that day.

Ennis called his summer league play “terrible”: 29.7 percent shooting (19 for 64) in seven games, 2 for 23 on three-pointers, 7.3 points per game and more than twice as many turnovers (23) as assists (11).

Nearly three months later, Ennis appeared in much better spirits this week. One big reason: The tendinitis in his knees has subsided. He said that was a big factor in his summer struggles.

“I was down on myself because I expected more from me,” he said this week. “I’m really hard on myself. But I looked at it and said, ‘You’re injured.’ I was playing at 65 percent. I did a lot of treatment. My knee is a lot better. You’ll see it in the preseason.”

Ennis, who shot 40.9 percent from the field and 32.6 percent on three-pointers last season, believes the shooting will improve because of a subtle change in his technique.

“[Assistant coach Keith] Smart had me shoot the ball on my way up, not shoot the ball when I’m up in the air already,” Ennis said. “I feel it’s more fluid now. My shot is looking really good. I want to shoot above 40 percent this year from three.” 

The other priority is improving his ball-handling. He had 48 assists and 39 turnovers last season.

“The reason I was losing the ball a lot was I was standing straight up,” he said. “When I stay low, like I have been, it’s good. I’m handling the ball very well right now.”

He insists the summer league downer has not shaken his confidence. “I did good last year,” he said. “Summer league didn’t work out. I know I can do it the in the NBA. When you have an injury it’s hard to play your game because you’re always worried about the injury. Now my mind is cleared. Have a fresh start. No tendinitis. I’m 100 percent.  I feel free because I’m confident in myself.”

At his best, Ennis gives the Heat energy and athleticism, disruptive defense (17 blocks and 25 steals last season) and a finisher on fast breaks (20 dunks last season). He shoots free throws well (79 for 94, 84 percent last season) and has good chemistry with point guard Goran Dragic.

“He looks much better physically,” Erik Spoelstra said Thursday.

As for Johnson, the Heat’s efforts to develop his point guard skills during summer league were short-circuited when a collision with a Clippers player resulted in a broken jaw.

Still missing a tooth in the front of his mouth, Johnson was cleared for contact last month and worked at both guard spots during informal workouts in September and during the first few days of camp.

“I love his competitiveness,” Spoelstra said. “Tyler just finds a way to be effective.”

Though he enters fifth or six in the guard hierarchy (with rookie Josh Richardson), the Heat values Johnson’s versatility and athleticism.

“I’ve worked on my ball-handling and playing point guard and my shooting – I can improve my percentages from three [.375 last season/18 for 48],” he said. “And being able to guard multiple positions is important.”

He also knows he must finish more consistently; last season, he missed four of 14 dunks and shot 29 for 49 at the rim (59.2 percent).

Johnson has studied video of two point guards (teammate Goran Dragic and Kyrie Irving) and two shooting guards who have the ball in their hands a lot (Manu Ginobili and James Harden).

“I studied the way they attack the rim in transition and how they finish; Goran is very good getting into the body of the defender and keeping his dribble alive,” said Johnson, hoping to emulate that.


### Hassan Whiteside has missed the first five sessions of camp, over three days, because of a calf injury. Mario Chalmers was held out of much of Thursday’s practice with a leg issue.

### Rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson have impressed teammates and coaches with their defense. “They’re different defenders,” Dwyane Wade said. “Justise is stronger. He’s hard to move. I look at him like a Ron Artest kind of player. Josh is quick, athletic, long.”

### The Dolphins practiced indoor, in pads, in Davie today, before flying to London for Sunday's Jets game. Dion Sims and Jonas Gray missed practice; Jordan Cameron, Earl Mitchell and Branden Albert were limited.

### I asked Cameron Wake if the defensive linemen are angry or frustrated by their inability to get to the quarterback so far. No, he said. “We’re determined, determined to make things better.”

Wake has been limited by a hamstring. “Any injury would hinder your burst or change of direction," he said.

“It looks like he’s had a good week of practice,” Joe Philbin said. “[Getting more pressure on the quarterback] is something that we’ve been emphasizing with our entire defensive front. Across the board, we need to do a better job of that.”

### Philbin said that Michael Thomas starting ahead of Walt Aikens last week wasn’t necessarily performance based, but more a reflection of different packages that Miami uses.

### Among the many things irking Philbin: “I’m not real pleased with our run game in general overall, period," he griped Thursday. "It’s been a little bit of everything, we just haven’t gotten a lot of conversions. We’re 35 percent on third down, we haven’t run as many plays as we typically have, our run per carry is down a little bit, what is it about 4.0 or something like that? [Yes, and that’s tied for 14th in the league]. So we’re down a little bit. I think there are a lot of factors. We just haven’t run as many plays at this stage of the season as we have in other points last year.”

Miami has rushed for only 218 yards in three games, tied for 27th.

### Former Marlins third base coach Bo Porter is the second person confirmed to have interviewed for the team’s manager job recently, according to CBS’ Jon Heyman. Manny Acta previously interviewed, and several more interviews are expected. Porter was 110-190 in nearly two years as Astros manager.

Dan Jennings was told a few weeks ago that he won't return as manager but has been offered a chance to return to his old GM job.

Please check back tonight for Canes-Cincinnati postscripts…. Twitter: @flasportsbuzz