Posted Apr 23 2010 6:52AM
PORTLAND -- For nine long years, most of Jason Richardson's NBA career has been an endless summer.
Suddenly it's a day at the beach.
There were all those nights and all those seasons when Richardson played on teams that made winning games look as difficult as getting a whale to swim through the eye of a needle.
Now it's become as easy as tossing the ball into the ocean.
If the Richardson tsunami ever stops washing over them, the Trail Blazers will feel relief. But certainly no more than Richardson, who has waited a long time for this experience.
"Nine years in the league, only in the playoffs twice," he said. "I've spent seven summers at home, so I don't take anything for granted."
Two straight wins by the Suns in this first round series and about all that's left for Richardson to do is walk on water. In back-to-back games, he's shot a combined 24-for-35 from the field, 12-for-17 from behind the 3-point line and scored 29 and 42.
"I definitely think it's my best game as a pro," he said after doing everything but the backstroke in the Suns' 108-89 win at the Rose Garden.
It would be the best game in a lot of careers for a lot of pros, many of whom have had a lot more playoff experiences than the 29-year-old guard.
"I've had a tough career," Richardson said.
Many of those toughest times have come in his extended summers when Richardson had to pack up his gym bag and head home early without getting a sniff of the playoffs.
"Man, it's hard," he said. "It's very tough, especially when you become a veteran player and you're going home around April 14 or 15 and a lot of your friends around the league are getting ready for the really fun part of the NBA.
"You're watching playoff games and wondering why you're not there or what happened, what you did wrong during the season. It fuels you to work even harder to get there next year. But it frustrates you too. You find yourself saying 'Why not me?' "
With the Blazers working to get the ball out of the hands of Steve Nash on the pick-and-roll and to bottle up Amar'e Stoudemire with two and three defenders down in the low post, the Suns had to figure why not Richardson as the guy with the easiest scoring opportunities.
Other than why didn't Portland bother to even show up for the first half and what will it take to light a fire under LaMarcus Aldridge, the biggest question is whether the Blazer defenders stand so far away from J-Rich because they think he's ticking?
"I was very surprised," Richardson said. "Coming off the screens, it seemed like I was open every time. I was surprised they kept on leaving me. I think Game 4 will be a different story."
Of course, it's already such a dramatically different story for Richardson, who played for six seasons in Golden State and then moved onto Charlotte for a little more than a season. His only previous trip to the playoffs was that lightning-in-a-bottle run by the Warriors in the spring of 2007, and as fast as they struck the team was broken up.
"Yeah, we didn't know it was one-year shot and then done," Richardson said. "We thought at least they'd give us a couple of years together to build on what we started. We made history in a few months and then it was over.
"That was exciting, the high point of my career until now. But this was really different this season. We weren't playing just to get in and look at that as our goal. We were playing for a seed. It's a great opportunity for me.
"To be on this team that is very good and has a chance, that's what you want. More than just hope to win a game or two. You're going in hoping that you can make a deep run and we're capable of doing that."
He's got friends sprinkled all throughout the league who are fixtures in the playoffs year after year and he's tired of watching them on TV. He knows younger players who just happened to get drafted to the right team and go all the way to The Finals, has buddies who don't even think about making off-season plans until the middle of June.
"All those other summers, I'm definitely watching every game," Richardson said. "I'm looking at guys and how they're playing and seeing the things that I need to do to help my team make it to the playoff season when I'm working out in the summertime.
"This is everything I've envisioned while I was working so hard in the summers, which for me usually started in April or May. I've had so much time off throughout my career that a lot of times I didn't know what to do with it all. So I just went back into the gym and kept working."
If Nash is the metronome who keeps the Suns beating in time and Stoudemire is their muscle, then Richardson is potentially their big splash, someone who can go end-to-end to finish on the break and put one right between your eyes if you give him a shot from the wing.
After all those games and all those years, this is what a lot of guys might take for granted. But this is what he's worked toward -- a playoff run.
J-Rich, the boy of summers, grinned.
"I've had enough long vacations," he said.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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