Heat guard Josh Richardson, a second-round revelation in the second half of last season, made his 2016-17 season debut Friday, two months after sustaining a partially torn MCL in his right knee.
Richardson, playing his first game of the season after being sidelined nearly two months with a knee injury, played key fourth-quarter minutes but finished 0 for 4 from the field in 12 minutes, with a steal and two turnovers.
“I felt fine,” he said. “I’ve got to trust my knee fully. I’ve got to find a rhythm. I told Spo going into halftime that I felt good. My teammates were encouraging me the whole game. I feel ready.”
Richardson entered with 3:50 left in the first quarter and the Heat ahead 21-10. He committed two turnovers, picked up two fouls and missed both his shot attempts in an initial five-minute, first-half stint.
“I’d like to give them a couple minutes in the first half and see how it feels from there,” Richardson said before the game. “If I’m sore, I can shut it down. I know I feel pretty good.”
Doctors pronounced Richardson fully healed from the Sept. 9 injury, which did not require surgery.
“We have to keep on working and making sure he’s getting stronger, getting better conditioned and not feeling any pain,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game.
Richardson, a very good defender, was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the entire 2015 NBA Draft. Selected 40th overall, he shot 46.1 percent from three-point range and became a key rotation piece during the second half of the season.
After the season, Spoelstra “told me he has a lot of faith of me, he sees another level I can hit,” Richardson said.
The Heat encouraged him to work on his ball-handling and playmaking during the summer, and Spoelstra said there was clear progress there before he was injured when landing awkwardly after a dunk in an informal workout.
Spoelstra said there has been improvement in Richardson’s playmaking: “He put in a tremendous amount of work, and I thought he was one of the most improved players in the Orlando Summer League. He expanded his versatility, which is what we wanted.”
Richardson said his ballhandling is “way better. Having a big role in summer league helped me a lot. Having the ball in my hands was good for me. I think I’ve gotten better seeing things before they happen, anticipating where guys should be. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to become more of a playmaker.”
Richardson could be used at point guard, shooting guard and small forward and said he’s equally comfortable at all three.
Meanwhile, Spoelstra said forward Josh McRoberts — who has been out since the start of training camp with a foot injury — participated in practice the past two days but is not quite ready to return, though he remains available for late-game in-bounds passes.
The foot injury was the latest ailment during an injury-plagued Heat tenure. He has played in just 59 of a possible 169 regular-season games with the Heat, though some of those missed games were Spoelstra’s decision, as opposed to injuries.
“It sucks, but you guys stay on me enough for being hurt, so I don’t have to be on myself,” McRoberts said, good-naturedly, to three reporters Friday morning. “I got hurt playing hard for the Miami Heat. It happens. It’s part of the game.
“I’ve been lucky enough to go how many years, 26, 27 years without having to miss too much time. I had a string of bad luck with the injuries but hopefully will be done with that.”
McRoberts, a natural power forward, expects to play center primarily this season.
“The way we play, I don’t think it really matters that much,” he said.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Guard Wayne Ellington remains out with a quad contusion. Spoelstra said he “still hasn’t been able to participate in any of these kind of workouts. He is getting better but he hasn’t progressed to contact work.”
▪ Toronto coach Dwane Casey called the Heat a “scrappy, young team. They’re rebuilding in the right way.”
▪ Casey indicated in NBA coaches meetings this offseason, Goran Dragic came under scrutiny because “he’s one of the best in the league in stiff-arming the defense with the basketball.”