MIAMI — Josh Richardson isn’t afraid to admit it. He needed some more time off.
The Heat guard returned from a partially torn MCL in his right knee eight weeks after suffering the injury. With a bulky knee brace on, Richardson played in 13 games and averaged 10.9 points on 39.4 percent shooting.
But Richardson didn’t feel right.
After suffering a sprained right ankle on Nov. 28 against Boston, Richardson shut it down again and missed the next six games. The 23-year-old believes that’s exactly what he needed.
“You don’t really know how to test yourself when you’ve never been hurt,” Richardson said after Wednesday’s win over the Pacers. “I think it was good to sit out a couple games again and kind of maneuver a little differently and try to figure things out a little differently.”
Since returning from a sprained ankle, Richardson has averaged 10.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting to go with 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the Heat’s past three games entering Friday’s contest against the Clippers.
The offensive numbers are better, but it’s on the defensive side where you notice a more active Richardson.
Richardson is holding players he’s defending to 30 percent shooting — 14.9 percent below their usual shooting percentage — since returning from a sprained ankle. That includes one of the most impressive defensive performances of his short NBA career against the Pacers on Wednesday.
Richardson played the entire fourth quarter while defending Pacers star Paul George. The second-year NBA player held George to two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the fourth, and Richardson limited players he was defending to 27.3 percent shooting for the game.
And Richardson is doing it without that bulky knee brace on. He chose to play without it when he returned from the ankle injury against Chicago last week.
“I feel a lot better. I feel a lot faster,” Richardson said. “I don’t think I came back too fast last time. It was just tough playing with a brace when you’ve never done it.”
When asked just how much it helps to not have the knee brace on, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Richardson didn’t mince words.
“What?! A world (of difference), man,” Richardson answered. “I’m skinny, so I like to play skinny and do skinny people stuff on the court. I feel like it’s adding too much, I don’t know what it is. It’s just a mental thing and I don’t like it.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Richardson told him after Saturday’s loss in Chicago that “it’s the best he’s felt all year.” That comes after Richardson stayed in Miami for part of the Heat’s past two road trips to recover from a sprained ankle.
“Josh was really able to spend a lot of time just slowing down with no competition,” Spoelstra said. “Even though we had him on a minutes restriction, he was playing through it and he probably could have continued to play through it. But he came back here with daily double sessions and more importantly daily double sessions of treatment and strengthening all the ancillary muscles of his leg. He’s feeling better right now.”
But Richardson knows there’s still another level he can get to.
“I’m not all the way back yet,” Richardson said. “But I feel like I’m further along than I was before with the brace. Baby steps.”