Josh Richardson ready to return for Heat, but role still uncertain

LA Clippers guard Raymond Felton (2) defends Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
LA Clippers guard Raymond Felton (2) defends Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — Teammates referred to Josh Richardson as “the new guy” at Wednesday’s practice.

Why? A new hair style. Richardson returned from the All-Star break with braids in his hair.

“They thought it was cool,” Richardson said of the feedback he received on his braids. “I got introduced as the new guy in practice today. But it was a good reception.”

That positive reception wasn’t just because of Richardson’s hair, though. His Heat teammates are happy to finally have the 23-year-old back on the court.

Richardson is expected to make his return Friday in Atlanta against the Hawks after missing the past 19 games with a sprained left foot.

“He adds a lot — 3-point shooting, defense, length at the guard spot,” center Hassan Whiteside said of Richardson. “He’s one of our taller guards, so he can play the one through three. He’s going to help a lot.”

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But a lot has changed since Richardson last played in a game on Jan. 6.

For one, Miami has recorded a 14-5 record in the 19 games Richardson has missed. And the Heat have won all of those games with a consistent guard rotation that’s included starters Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, and reserves Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington.

With the amount of guards Miami has on its roster, Erik Spoelstra has played a lot of three-guard lineups this season. With the 6-foot-6 Richardson now back in the mix, that won’t change as he’s expected to see minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward when he returns.

“I’m open,” Spoelstra said when asked about Richardson’s role. “I think he should be open to it, too. Nothing can be set in concrete with this team. That’s just the way the year has gone. What we’re asking for him and of everybody is to be ready and contribute, help impact winning. That’s the most important thing.”

Richardson should be used to moving between three different positions by now. According to Basketball Reference, he’s spent 67 percent of his minutes this season at small forward, 28 percent at shooting guard, and 1 percent at point guard.

“Wherever [Spoelstra] puts me on the court, I’m going to take advantage of it,” Richardson said. “I’m just going to try to help the team.”

It’s been a difficult season for the second-year player. Richardson has played in just 28 of Miami’s 57 games this season due to various injuries, averaging 11.2 points while shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 31.3 percent on 3-pointers.

But Richardson finally feels healthy. With 25 games remaining in the regular season, that’s a positive for Miami.

“I think he looks good because he’s worked at it now for two weeks where he’s been going full scale,” Spoelstra said. “But he spent the last four, five weeks really working on his conditioning and getting his health right. He’s been doing some level of contact now for two weeks. So I think he’s had a pretty healthy approach to prepare for this. There’s been a lot of moving parts all year long and it doesn’t change now. The team has been able to adjust to guys in and out of the rotation.”

Justise Winslow out of sling: Justise Winslow was out of his sling at Wednesday’s practice.

The 20-year-old Winslow spent the past six weeks in a sling after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Jan. 5. He is still expected to miss the remainder of the season, but he was able begin “very light rehab” work this week.

“I think he may be arguably the most excited guy in the gym right now,” Spoelstra said of Winslow. “Patience will be his word. He has to really be methodical in the next step of his recovery.”

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