April 4, 2013

Miami Heat’s Mike Miller steps up when called on

Mike Miller has spent most of the season on the bench, but with the Heat resting starters, his number is being called more often.

Mike Miller might sometimes feel like a forgotten man on the Heat’s bench, but his folk-hero status among fans, earned in 2012 NBA Finals, has only grown with passage of time.

Hobbled by a balky back, Miller hit seven three-pointers in Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and, in doing so, shot his way into the long-term memories of not only Heat supporters but basketball lovers everywhere.

It’s nearly that time again — time for another run at a championship — and Miller reminded all of his shooting prowess on Tuesday in the Heat’s 12-point loss to the Knicks at AmericanAirlines Arena.

His name might not have the same cachet as Ray Allen, but his game, now emboldened by a healthy body, wants for nothing.

“You’re happy for him that, one, he’s healthy this time of year and, secondly, he has a unique skill set because he can not only shoot the basketball from three but he can put the ball on the floor and he’s a very good rebounder, and I think you saw the whole package [Tuesday night],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Miller finished the game with 18 points, all coming in the first half, and was 7 of 12 from the field, including 4 of 8 from three-point range. It was the most field goals he had made in a game this season. In addition to the shooting, Miller was tied with Shane Battier for a team-high eight rebounds.

Yes, the Heat lost Tuesday, which is rare these days, but the game certainly felt like a win for Miller, who was mobbed by fans as he was trying to duck out of the arena without answering questions from reporters. Such is Miller’s custom whether he hits four three-pointers — as he has done in back-to-back games — or doesn’t register a single field goal, which has been the case in 19 of the Heat’s games this season.

Always gracious, Miller and his quick exit were slowed by adulation and then stopped all together when a reporter tracked him down just as he was nearly home free and about to reach the parking lot underneath AmericanAirlines Arena.

The obvious question: Do you feel like these next few weeks are a tryout for playing time in the playoffs?

“I’m in a tryout for sure,” Miller said. “It’s going to be tough to get in there. I’m not naïve to it. We’ve got a pretty good rotation going on and we won 27 straight games with that rotation.

“But if they call on me, I’ll be ready to play.”

Starters LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers have enjoyed rest since the Heat’s victory in New Orleans, and during the past two games, Battier has referred to Heat’s undermanned lineups as the “Fighting Clowns” and the “Expendables.”

Battier — with the genial disposition of a statesman — can turn any subject into an agreeable jest, but speaks reverently of Miller’s ability and his gracious acceptance of a role that has been diminished through no fault of his own, but rather by an embarrassment of options at the wing position.

“It speaks to Mike Miller’s professionalism,” Battier said. “You know he’s ready. Listen, he’s one of the best shooters on the planet, so there’s no question about that. We know you can throw him in the game and he can get hot in a hurry.”

In truth, the idea of Miller or any of the Heat’s players being “expendable” is hyperbole. Sure, Miller is sitting behind Allen in the rotation, but if Wade were to be injured in the playoffs, Miller would likely jump from a third-string option to a starter.

For that reason, the next two weeks are important for the Heat’s reserves, who have received more playing time than usual since the Heat’s unexpected victory over the Spurs Sunday night in San Antonio.

“For those guys, it’s not easy for them during the course of the year, but that’s why we have [depth],” Spoelstra said. “Those guys have a skill set we need, and we’ll definitely need in the playoffs.”

Said Miller: “I’ve got to get in shape, but I feel good.”

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