MIAMI (AP) — It’s been a running joke with Mike Miller for much of this season. He comes into the Miami Heat locker room before games, sees the jersey hanging in his stall and wonders aloud why someone went to the trouble of putting it there.
Such is life for many Heat players.
The blessing of having a deep team like Miami does is there’s so many combinations to choose from when it’s time to put a lineup together. The curse of having such a team is that there’s a finite number of minutes to go around, so plenty of times players like Miller, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Rashard Lewis — guys who could possibly play big minutes on other clubs — have found themselves out of the rotation altogether.
“All you can do is stay ready,” Miller said. “That’s your job.”
And of late, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and now Chris Bosh ailing, that Heat bench has been more than ready.
Playing without James, Wade and Chalmers, the Heat went into San Antonio and won a week ago. Miller and Lewis combined to score 40 points in a win over Charlotte on Friday. On Saturday, with James back in the lineup, Miami’s bench tied a season-high by scoring 53 points in a win over Philadelphia.
For Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the depth is clearly a nice problem to have.
“It takes the right type of professional. These guys make it look much easier,” Spoelstra said. “You look at any profession in any field, egos really do become a factor. Are people really willing to sacrifice part of their role or their ego to be part of something special or different? In most cases, I would argue not. They wouldn’t. And these guys are very unique. They understand what this opportunity is.”
Miller might be the poster child for the Heat mantra of bench sacrifice this season.
He was one of the stars of last season’s title-clinching win over Oklahoma City. Despite being so ravaged by back pain that he could barely stand upright much less run, he still made seven 3-pointers in that Game 5 triumph. Many people expected Miller to either retire or be the subject of Miami’s still-unused amnesty provision — something the team did not consider — after that game.
Instead, he got healthy. His back was corrected without surgery, just rehab and conditioning.
And he’s insisted he feels better now than he has in years. But usually, on game nights, Miller sits and watches.
“I’ll tell you what: He’s a great weapon to have,” Spoelstra said.
So clearly, Spoelstra hasn’t forgotten Miller, who hit seven 3-pointers in the win at Charlotte on Friday.
“Right now, it’s time for the guys who haven’t been getting a lot of playing time to get a rhythm in case they need us in the playoffs,” said Miller, who has never openly ranted about the lack of minutes he’s dealt with this season.
Lewis scored eight points in the fourth quarter on Saturday, kick-starting what became a 29-11 run by the Heat to close the game against the 76ers — who were within one to start the fourth, then wound up falling by 19.
Afterward, Philadelphia tipped its cap to the Miami bench.
“You’ve got guys like Mike Miller who hasn’t played a lot, as much as he usually does, and Rashard now coming into form for the playoffs … they have a lot of ways to beat you,” 76ers center Spencer Hawes said.
James returned to the lineup Saturday after missing three games with a strained right hamstring. Wade has missed six of the last eight games with a variety of ailments, including knee and ankle issues, though it’s all believed to be relatively minor. Chalmers is back after an ankle problem. Bosh has a sore right knee that kept him out Saturday but probably wouldn’t preclude him from playing in Miami’s next outing against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait for everyone to get healthy, get everyone’s ailments get healed up and get back out here and back to it,” Andersen told Sun Sports after Saturday’s win, the one where he became just the 10th reserve in Heat history to grab 15 rebounds in a game.
When Andersen plays this season, Miami is 33-3. His midseason addition has been a huge boost in energy off the bench, and his physicality in the post was something the Heat needed.
And since Andersen arrived, the Heat are 8-0 in the second night of back-to-back games.
“The leaders, they come out and do what they have to do and they do it well and the bench just comes in and contributes and we don’t step outside our boundaries expect for when I take dumb shots,” Andersen said. “It’s a matter of our bench. We’ve got All-Stars sitting all the way down to the end and when we come in and help and get those guys some rest, it just feels great.”
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