It must not have come easily for him, but Quentin Richardson had been quiet for the past few weeks.
From the All-Star game on, Richardson — bogged down by nagging injuries — had been shooting only about 40 percent and scoring about 12 points per game.
He busted out of this slump the past three games, averaging 17.0 points, shooting 45 percent (42 percent on 3-pointers) and grabbing 7.0 rebounds a game.
It’s no coincidence that the Suns won these games.
Richardson producing points makes an impact in a host of ways, not the least of which is to inject some swagger into the club.
That’s because on an otherwise low-key team, the headthumping Richardson gives the Suns presence and flair.
And when he’s hitting shots, he makes the Suns’ offense — with so many other weapons at hand — pretty much unstoppable.
"That opens up everything for everybody else," coach Mike D’Antoni said. "It’s invaluable."
"I’m getting open looks," Richardson said.
"Steve (Nash) and the guys are finding me in open positions. I have to make the most of it."
The Suns also are trying to sprinkle in a few post-up plays for him, as that’s how Richardson thrived in college at DePaul and, to some degree, with the Los Angeles Clippers.
D’Antoni said this will happen most when Nash is resting; when the playmaker is in the game, penetration and the two-man game rule the roost.
"That’s my first love, posting up and scoring on the inside," Richardson said.
In his younger days, he never imagined himself breaking 3-point records (he recently surpassed Dan Majerle’s club record for most 3s made in a season), though, he acknowledged, "I could always shoot the ball."
At the other end of the floor, Richardson isn’t known as a defensive player. But he often has done the job for the Suns. He leads the team ("by far," D’Antoni said) in drawing charging fouls.
"My high school and college coaches would crack up" if they knew this, he said. "They thought I didn’t play defense. . . . They put me on the worst player."
This trait may have to change a bit, as some of Richardson’s recent health woes stem from these collisions (a concussion and a bruised hip).
"I might have to cut back," he said. At the same time, this sort of move is instinctual, so he might not have time to think about when to draw fouls.
"I see someone coming, and I give myself up," he said.
Richardson said his aches and pains have subsided.
"I’m feeling good," he said. "I’m going to try to stay right for the last 10 games."
If he does, the Suns might have a clear path to the league’s best record.
Suns at Rockets
When: 5:30 p.m. today
TV: KUTP (Ch. 45)
Radio: KTAR (620 AM)
Records: Suns 55-17, Rockets 44-29
Line: Phoenix by 3 1/2
Series history: Both teams have won on each other’s court this season. The Suns have won 19 of the past 32. All time, the Suns lead, 84-77, including a 30-50 mark in Houston.
Scouting report: Suns — A win tonight helps them stay atop the NBA standings. They are 38 games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 1992-93 season (62-20). Walter McCarty did not accompany the team as his wife has delivered a baby girl.
Rockets — They’re coming off a bad loss to New Orleans, a game in which — perhaps thinking they would coast — they held out Yao Ming with a sore calf. Expect him to go tonight. Dikembe Mutombo, however, has played well in a relief role. He ranks No. 5 in the NBA with 16.4 rebounds per 48 minutes.