Chris Bosh walked over to Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow as they were sitting and icing their bodies in front of their lockers after Friday night’s Game 6 victory in Charlotte and gave them some of the usual, playful tough love he and other veterans have been dishing the rookies all season.
“Man,” Richardson told Winslow in front of Bosh as they were all laughing. “He’s just trying to take advantage [that] we’re still rookies. Enjoy it CB.”
Those rookie tags could expire after Sunday, but only if the Miami Heat do something it hasn’t done since Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem were in their second seasons in the league. That would be lose Game 7 at home in the playoffs.
Having Richardson and Winslow on the court could prove paramount to the Heat’s survival — especially when it comes to guarding the Hornets’ Kemba Walker, who ranks sixth in the playoffs in scoring (25.0 points per game) and is coming off a 37-point game.
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The Heat rookies rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in field-goal percentage defense on the team, with the Hornets scoring only 31.4 percent of the time they’ve put up a shot that Richardson has defended (22 of 70) — that’s fifth-best among all guards in the playoffs. Winslow (19 of 50 on shots defended, 38 percent) isn’t far behind.
Richardson, though, enters Sunday’s 1 p.m. tipoff at AmericanAirlines Arena listed as questionable with a left shoulder strain after he tried to fight through a Cody Zeller screen — a play that should have been ruled a foul on Zeller, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minutes report — late in the fourth quarter of Game 6 and was left writhing in pain as he laid on the court.
An MRI on Richardson’s shoulder on Saturday afternoon came back negative for a tear, but there’s a small chance he could tear his labrum if he plays, according to a source. Ultimately, Richardson will have to go through a workout Sunday morning and prove to team trainers he can play with the pain and not injure himself further.
Richardson said Friday he intended to play in Game 7.
“You have to be responsible to the athlete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on a conference call with reporters on Saturday. “If you leave it up to Josh, he said there’s no question he’s playing. And that may be the case. But the responsible thing to him and to us is to get it checked out, see what it is and take the next course of action.”
Spoelstra said if Richardson is out he would feel comfortable playing Tyler Johnson on Sunday “if that’s necessary.” But Johnson, who has been active for the Heat in an emergency role since Game 5, hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 26 following shoulder surgery in early February.
Walker, meanwhile, has been tough to guard in the series. Although he’s shooting only 38.7 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three-point range, Walker is putting up the second-most shots in the postseason (22.8), behind only Kevin Durant (23.4). Walker’s 37-point Game 6 performance was the fourth-highest-scoring game of these playoffs and the third time in the series he has shot better than 46 percent.
And after starting the series 5 of 25 from three-point range over the first four games, Walker has begun to heat up from deep, going 7 of 13 from three-point range in his past two games.
“He’s going to be in attack mode,” said Winslow, who has guarded Walker at times during the series but not nearly as much as Richardson.
“I think one of the biggest keys with him is our bigs. They have to remain active and just try to make it tough on him. He’s going to be super aggressive. He’s their go-to guy. It’s going to be tough on everybody, but we’ve got to do it together, try to make him play in a crowd and really use your length on him because he’s a smaller guy. That’s really it.”
The Hornets, meanwhile, could be without swingman Nicolas Batum, who is listed as questionable after re-aggravating a left foot sprain in Game 6.
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said his team didn’t play with nearly enough defensive purpose in the first half of Game 6, when the Heat scored 30 points in the paint. But the Hornets held Miami to only eight paint points in the second half on Friday, and the Heat needed Dwyane Wade’s heroics late to hold off a Walker-led charge.
Clifford said the Heat’s dominance in rebounding in Game 6 “was a real problem” and something the Hornets intended to fix before Game 7.
“It’s what you want,” Winslow said of playing in a Game 7 at home. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a great atmosphere playing at home in front of our fans. It’s win or go home. It’s going to be a pretty good game I feel like.”
Sunday: Hornets at Heat
What: Game 7 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs.
When/where: 1 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: ABC; WAXY 790, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).
Playoff series: Tied at 3-3.
Scouting report: This will be the 12th meeting between the teams this season counting the preseason, with both teams winning five games between the regular season and the playoffs. … The Hornets are the only team that has beaten the Heat at home since March 1, going 2-2 at AmericanAirlines Arena over that stretch.