Josh Richardson rejoined his teammates on Friday and although he won’t play until Saturday at the earliest when the Miami Heat wraps up a tough three-game road trip against the Chicago Bulls, it’s a much-needed boost for a squad ravaged by injuries and reeling in the standings.
“It's great [to be back],” said Richardson, who sprained his right ankle Nov. 28 against the Celtics and hasn’t played since. “I hate having to sit at home and watch the games on TV. Even if I'm not playing, I'm with the team at least and I can tell them stuff in timeouts I'm seeing, encourage them, little stuff. I can’t do that at home. So it’s good to be back.”
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Richardson was one of five players the Heat left behind in South Florida recovering from bumps and bruises before it began the road trip Wednesday in Atlanta.
The team, which was down to nine healthy available players Wednesday, had rookie guard Rodney McGruder go down with a sprained left ankle against the Hawks. But he told coach Erik Spoelstra at shootaround Friday morning at Quicken Loans Arena he was going to play.
McGruder, who had his foot in a boot Thursday and admitted there was some swelling, said he tested the ankle Friday and ran sprints at shootaround without limping. He was limping badly in the second half of the Heat’s loss Wednesday.
“I’m not in that much pain,” McGruder said of his ankle, which he claims he’s rolled many times before and yet has still found a way to play. “It’s a little sore, but it’s nothing excruciating. It’s not the same [as the other night]. It’s a little sore, but it feels 10 times better than it did the other night.”
With Justise Winslow (sore left wrist) out for 12 consecutive games, McGruder (6-4, 200) has started nine games and has spent a lot of time guarding opposing wings with the Heat short-handed. He’s expected to guard four-time MVP LeBron James on Friday and likely will lineup opposite two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler on Saturday.
“I look forward to a fun game,” McGruder said of his impeding matchup with James. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s what basketball is all about – challenges. You just got to be ready to play because he’s capable of everything.”
Spoelstra said if Richardson does play Saturday it will be in a limited fashion.
“He's going to get two more workouts – a workout on the court, conditioning workout – and then the treatment and then we’ll evaluate him [Saturday] with the intention he can play some minutes,” Spoelstra said. “Not his full slot of minutes, but at least some minutes [Saturday].”
Richardson, who is averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three-point range this season, said Firday when he does return to action he probably won’t be wearing the knee brace he had on in his first 13 games this season.
Richardson wore it as a precautionary measure after he missed the preseason and first four games of the season recovering recovering from a sprained MCL in his right knee.
“I didn't really like it all,” Richardson said of the brace. “I don’t like dragging that thing around. I like to be fast and slim and that thing is big. So, I didn't like it.”
HEAT LOOKED INTO HARDSHIP WAIVER
With injuries mounting and the NBA requiring a minimum of at least eight healthy players in uniform per game, Spoelstra said the Heat did look into applying to add a 16th player under the hardship waiver.
According to Larry Coon’s CBA salary cap FAQ website, a hardship can be deemed to exist when a team has four players who are sick or injured and have missed at least three regular season games, and will continue to be unable to play.
If a hardship is granted, the hardship ends when one of the sick or injured players is physically able to resume playing. The team must then release a player to get back to the roster limit of 15, although teams have the option to retain the hardship player and release a different player to get back to the limit.
“It's kind of an awkward rule... and it's not retroactive,” Spoelstra said. “I've got my fingers crossed that those guys [back in Miami] will not be an additional couple weeks and I don't feel that they would be.”
Guard Dion Waiters (groin) and forwards Justise Winslow (sore left wrist), Luke Babbitt (hip flexor) and James Johnson (right rotator cuff) are the four remaining players back in Miami. Winslow hasn’t played since Nov. 14 and has been out the longest.
The Heat open up a six-game homestand against the Washington Wizards on Monday night. The hope is at least a couple of those players could be back at some point during the homestand.
Saturday: Heat at Bulls
When/where: 8 p.m., United Center, Chicago
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Bulls lead 56-48
Scouting report: Dwyane Wade and the Bulls handed San Antonio it’s first road loss of the season Thursday night and already beat the Heat back on Nov. 10 in Miami. The Bulls are 6-3 overall at home.