Heat forward Mike Miller tried his best to duck out of the Heat’s locker room on Saturday night without talking to reporters.
Alas, they caught him at the door.
One of the heroes of last season’s NBA championship, Miller has become notorious during this preseason for playfully trying to elude the media. On practice days, he cuts out of workouts as fast as possible and often jokes with reporters that he’s halfway home to Palm Beach County before the press is escorted into the Heat’s practice gym.
Just about the only thing Miller wants to talk about this season is his new energy drink venture, Let It Fly. But on Saturday, he was cornered. There was no flying anywhere for the Heat’s sharpshooter.
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While LeBron James milled about in the locker room off to the side and Dwyane Wade hurried himself to get showered and dressed for Saturday night’s football game between the University of Miami and Florida State, Miller held court, reluctantly, on the big game he had played and his remarkable recovery from a bad back that, just a few months earlier, had threatened to end his career.
Miller drilled four three-pointers in Miami’s 104-101 victory against the San Antonio Spurs, swishing his first four attempts from the outside. He finished the game 4 of 5 from three-point range and had four assists and five rebounds to go along with his 12 points.
There were times during the game that Miller favored his back, but, for the most part, he moved well for a man who in July couldn’t even sit on the Heat’s bench because the pain in his back was so severe.
“It’s all about work,” Miller said. “[Dwyane Wade] was professional and did what he had to do this summer. I tried to do the same. Now it’s time for us to go out there and play and try to stay healthy.”
Miller had a choice this summer, either undergo back surgery or begin the long process of strengthening back through rehabilitation. Miller chose the later with the hopes that rest and rehab would give him a better chance of extending his career. Through five games, it appears Miller’s choice has paid off.
“At the end of last season, he was an unknown,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not know if he was going to have a procedure or rest. I think the approach from everybody this summer was the right one, and that was to give him extended rest for the first time in his career.”
Miller took two months off this summer and then began slowly strengthening his core. The Heat wasn’t expecting Miller to be this far along in his rehab this quickly, and his offensive contributions have been viewed as an unexpected bonus.
“Objectively, he is way ahead of schedule and he is picking up where he left off last year in Game 5,” Spoelstra said.
Miller has only played in three of the Heat’s preseason games, but he has made the most of his time on the floor. He is 6 of 10 from three-point range overall and showing signs that the pressure he was under his first two seasons has all but evaporated after winning the first championship of his career.
Miller isn’t the only returning player who has displayed a confidence from three-point range that perhaps wasn’t there at the beginning of last season. Wingman Shane Battier is 11 of 19 from behind the arc. Last season, Battier was mired in a shooting slump for most of the first half of the lockout-shortened season.
Already unconventional by design, the Heat experimented even further with its resources on Saturday, resting LeBron James and starting a lineup that included three guards, Norris Cole, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen. The Heat was 13 of 27 from three-point range. It was the deciding statistic in the game and was enough to overcome 26 turnovers, a staggering number for a game that resulted in a victory.
“We will play a lot of different lineups without LeBron James throughout the year that will build that confidence like we did in previous seasons,” Spoelstra said. “From an early standpoint it is not a bad thing, but I do not want to make a habit of it.”
The Heat waived center Mickell Gladness and forward Jarvis Vanardo on Sunday, cutting the roster to 18 players. Spoelstra must cut the roster to 15 players before the beginning of the regular season.