When Joe Johnson was a young player in the NBA, there were no weighted basketballs available like today to help him build strength in his shooting wrist and develop his three-point shot.
So, Johnson, who has made more three-pointers in his 15-year career (1,820) than Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, would grab a 15-pound medicine ball and go to work after practice.
“The farthest I could get to was the free-throw line,” Johnson recalled Monday after practice. “I’d shoot like 200 balls from the paint every day.”
Now, Johnson, 34, just goes to work right next to 22-year-old Heat rookie Josh Richardson. The NBA’s most accurate three-point shooters since the All-Star break stay after practice together these days to push each other, Johnson said.
Richardson won’t leave the floor until he has made at least 70 of his 100 three-point attempts, a habit coach Erik Spoelstra imprinted upon the second-round pick when he fed him passes during an off-day workout in December. Last week, Richardson said, he set a new personal mark when he made 79 threes in one session.
What he and Johnson have done on the court, though, lately is even more impressive. Richardson has made 22 of his past 30 three-point attempts, including 29 of 45 since the All-Star break (64.4 percent), and Johnson, who finished second in the NBA when he made 47.8 percent from three in 2004-05, has made 26 of 47 attempts from beyond the arc (55.3 percent) since the break, including 23 of 39 since the Heat acquired him Feb. 28.
Together, they’ve turned the third-worst three-point shooting team before the All-Star break (32.3 percent) into the third-best (39.4 percent) since it. And the Heat’s 46.5 percent from three-point range in March leads the league.
“It’s a crazy stat, but at this point pretty much every time I shoot it from three I feel it’s going to go in,” said Richardson, a career 31.8 percent three-point shooter in college at Tennessee who had fewer attempts from three before the break (25) than makes (29) after it.
“We didn’t really even shoot threes before the All-Star break like that,” he continued. “We were a get in the paint team and bully people. It’s crazy to see a team change the whole complexion of their game like that — this fast.”
The Heat actually hasn’t started launching more threes. Richardson and Johnson have just started making more of them. The Heat’s 15.7 attempts per game from three-point range since the break is actually three fewer per game than before it (18.8).
“We’re not designing things to hunt for those shots,” Spoelstra said. “That pace and spacing was just as important when we were 0 for 9 from three at Charlotte [Feb. 5]. It’s still the same game as you saw [Saturday night against the Cavaliers] when we made 11 threes. Us making or taking a lot of threes is not something I’m counting on at all. It’s about getting to our spots, sacrificing for the ball.”
Still, Miami’s newly discovered three-point stroke has helped lead to 10 consecutive games of at least 100 points. That’s the Heat’s longest streak since March 1994.
It’s a crazy stat, but at this point pretty much every time I shoot it from three I feel it’s going to go in.
Miami’s uptempo attack since the break, Dwyane Wade said, is helping the team’s three-point shooters get to their spots faster. Quicker ball movement, Wade said, is also helping those shooters get open.
“It’s the evolution of two guys really,” Wade said. “Joe and Josh knocking down threes spreads the floor, opens up threes for other guys as well that they weren’t getting before. It’s the cool thing about sports. You never know what’s going to happen. No one predicted our team would be shooting the three-ball as good as it is or that the floor would be as spread or as open as it is.”
Richardson says he has a couple superstitions he has been practicing since the All-Star break to remain hot. The first one, putting his right sock on before his left, is something he has always done. The second “trick” is something new.
“I never play video games on game days anymore,” Richardson said. “I did before, but after the All-Star Game I actually stopped. I don’t know. I just felt like it was kind of distracting me and kind of wearing my brain out on game day. So, I stopped doing it. Then the results [happened]. So I’m never going to do it again.”
Tuesday: Heat at Pelicans
When, where: 8 p.m., Smoothie King Center, New Orleans.
TV, radio: Fox Sports Sun; WAXY (790), WAQI (710, Spanish).
Series: Pelicans lead 16-14.
Scouting report: Knee and shoulder surgery has sidelined All-Star power forward Anthony Davis for the next four to five months and he’s not the only Pelicans player injured. Still, the Hornets are 18-16 at home, including Sunday’s win over the Clippers. The Heat needs to win, considering Miami plays at San Antonio, which is 35-0 at home, on Wednesday.