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Winderman’s view: A reliable Richardson ultimately a boost to Heat, even with loss

MIAMI – Observations and other notes of interest from Sunday night’s 103-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers:

–  There were times when Josh Richardson appeared he was going to be shuffled out of the Heat mix.

– And for one game, against the Knicks in New York, he was.

– Then Duncan Robinson banged his head on the court at Madison Square Garden, with NBA concussion protocol following.

– Then Kyle Lowry was traded.

– And Sunday, there was no Tyler Herro, whose headache could have been a Heat headache when Herro was ruled out.

– To his credit, after a shaky, injury-marred start to the season, Richardson has come around as a contributor.

– His play in Sunday’s third quarter kept Kawhi Leonard from putting it away at that stage for the Clippers.

– Yes, it wasn’t there when needed late.

– But it also is not as if Richardson was added to be a closer.

– Considering how little the Heat have sowed from their other veteran offseason addition in Thomas Bryant, Richardson to a degree has salvaged free agency.

– Sunday he stepped in as a starter.

– And lately he has consistently stepped up when needed.

– That bodes well for the balance of the season.

– The Heat had planned to continue with their post-trade opening lineup of Bam Adebayo, Haywood Highsmith, Jimmy Butler, Herro and Terry Rozier.

– Until . . . Herro was listed out 22 minutes before the opening tip with his headache.

– So, instead, Richardson started in his place.

– Which meant lineup No. 26 for the Heat in Game 50.

– The Clippers opened with James Harden, Terance Mann, Paul George, Leonard, and Ivica Zubac.

– With Zubac back from his calf injury, it was the first time the Clippers opened with that lineup since Jan. 12.

– Kevin Love and Jaime Jaquez Jr. entered together in the Heat’s first substitution.

– Caleb Martin then followed.

– With Herro and Robinson out, Erik Spoelstra stayed with that eight-player rotation,

– While now a staple in the starting lineup, Highsmith largely had been limited solely to his opening stints of each half, as Spoelstra cycled through Martin, among others.

– Spoelstra said that doesn’t mean Highsmith’s role should have diminished perception.

– “There’s a lot of layers to that,” Spoelstra said. “And we’re still trying to figure out our rotation right now. But he’s been very good in those minutes. And that’s the thing. If you can embrace different kinds of roles, it doesn’t necessarily have to be 35-minute roles to have a major impact. And he’s had an impact.”

– Spoelstra added, “And we’re continuing to try to explore what we think is best. But in the meantime, he’s really improved.”

– With Herro and Robinson out, Highsmith’s minutes were up in this one, his extended minutes limited only by four trouble.

– Asked pregame of Butler’s comments of needing to be more impactful, Spoelstra initially simply answered, “Agreed.”

– Butler entered having scored at least 20 points in a season-high four consecutive games.

– Spoelstra then added. “I love it when he’s in impact mode. And we feed off his aggressiveness and his energy. Physically he’s feeling good right now.”

– Spoelstra then turned the answer into a bigger picture of the team’s offense.

– “And we’re trying to simplify things offensively,” he said, “just so we can get everybody feeling comfortable. That’s 1A, 1B for us, to get him in his strength zones and play off of him.”

– Of the Clippers hitting their stride at midseason, Spoelstra credited Clippers coach Tyronn Lue.

– “Ty has done a really good job, maximizing the group, getting them to play to an identity, getting everybody to embrace their roles, and you have to credit them, also,” Spoelstra said.

– He then spoke of the initial doubts after the Clippers acquired James Harden, “There’s a lot of noise when you lose. And whenever they lost five games right from the beginning after the trade, the noise gets loud. But they used it as something that galvanized them and got them to focus on the task. And they’ve been the hottest team in the league.”

– Of the Heat’s addition of Rozier two weeks ago, Lue said, “A lot of things Kyle brought, just younger. He adds that pop to their offense.”

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