Joe Johnson thriving in mentor role with youthful Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Joe Johnson has been known as ''Iso Joe,'' and was more recently dubbed ''Joe Jesus'' by Kevin Garnett when the two played together in Brooklyn.
Johnson, a seven-time All-Star who is one of the most prolific 1-on-1 scorers of his generation, is thriving in his mentor role with the Utah Jazz. But don't think he can't still take over games for a stretch.
The 16-year veteran is a major reason the Jazz are making their first playoff appearance since 2012. Utah finished as the No. 5 seed in the West and faces the Clippers on the road in the teams' series opener Saturday.
''It just came up one day,'' Johnson said about the newer moniker before breaking into a Garnett impression. ''It was like, `That's Joe Jesus. He may not come when you want him to, but he's always on time.'
''It's so funny. I enjoy it, man. It's fun to be recognized for doing something that you love doing.''
The joy disappears when asked about ''Iso Joe'' - a nickname that could imply a one-dimensional, ball-stopping player putting up empty numbers. Johnson has taken pride throughout his career to be the exact opposite - a team player, not a selfish player.
He has played a variety of roles during his career with the Celtics, Suns, Hawks, Nets, Heat and Jazz.
''Joe was an All-Star caliber player when we coached him in Phoenix and he's just continued that,'' Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. ''He's one of the better players in the league. He's got point guard skills, he's 6-8, 240-pounds and shoots 3s ... he's a heck of a player.''
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey calls Johnson the team's Pied Piper of fitness. The 35-year-old is very particular when it comes to his diet and he does hot yoga in a 105-degree room several times per week. Teammates and coaches have started tagging along; coach Quin Snyder joked they'll adjust practice sessions to accommodate.
''He's careful with everything,'' Snyder said. ''Used tease him about being vegan. I think he's tried pretty much everything to make him better. ... He's very experimentally inclined. Open-minded. He's got a curious mind. And as a result, he's looking for way to make himself better.''
The biggest beneficiary may be Rodney Hood, who occupies the locker adjacent to Johnson's. The third-year guard was jealous of young players with veteran mentors - then Johnson signed.
Johnson was actually Hood's favorite player growing up and the first NBA player Hood ever met. He was too shy to ask for an autograph, so Hood's mother did.
Now the two are close and Hood is constantly picking Johnson's brain for tips. The two connected quickly with similar mellow personalities and backgrounds - Hood is from Mississippi and Johnson is from Arkansas. They are also partners during drills at practices and constantly joke about ''country-boy things.''
''A big thing I'm picking up from him is just how to be a pro,'' Hood said. ''Every single day he's getting his treatment. He's getting up extra shots. He's working on his game even at his age.''
Johnson doesn't just talk about getting it done, he gets it done. He is still ''Joe Jesus'' - even if it is just for short stretches.
Snyder blames himself for not figuring out how to use Johnson earlier in the season, but he's been a multifaceted tool for the injury-ravaged Jazz. Utah was without three starters for much of the season. In his Jazz debut as a starter, Johnson scored 29 points with Gordon Hayward out with a broken finger. He reached the 20,000-point plateau last week and is a play-making power forward when the Jazz go small.
''I'm not about the hoopla and all that,'' Johnson said. ''I play my game and let my game do the talking ... I knew this would be easy for me.
''I can come off the bench and give you anywhere from 15-20 minutes ... I can do that in my sleep.''
This isn't ''Iso Joe,'' but he's still highly effective with that deliberate pace of play that defenders continue to struggle with after more than a decade.
''He's just older now,'' Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ''He's always played at that Paul Pierce pace. You can't speed him up no matter how hard you try. Kind of a professional scorer, man. He's just knows how to play.''
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AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.