MIAMI — The “old man’’ is back. This time, he even can walk.
When Miami Heat guard Mike Miller scored 18 points Tuesday against New York, it marked his most prolific outing since he put up 23 in a dramatic Game 5 Finals win last June over Oklahoma City. Plenty remember that night, including President Barack Obama.
“Mike Miller could barely walk,’’ Obama quipped in January when the Heat visited the White House to be congratulated for their NBA championship. “You looked broke down last year… I don’t know how he did it because he could not walk. He looked like an old man.’’
Now, Miller, 33, even can dunk. He’s done that in the each of the past two games, starting with Sunday’s at San Antonio.
The Heat had been keeping Miller in dry dock much of the season due to their tremendous depth and after he had close to retiring last summer due to back problems. But Miller, mostly because of recent injuries to starting shooting guard Dwyane Wade, has been dusted off lately by coach Erik Spoelstra, and he’s showing he will be able to help the Heat in the playoffs.
“I hadn’t done anything all year,’’ said Miller, averaging 3.7 points in the 57 games he has played. “So I got a lot of energy. I’m healthy. It’s been the first time in the last three years. So I feel good.’’
After scoring two points on Jan. 25 against Detroit, the former University of Florida star didn’t score again until March 24. That stretch included not playing in 19 of 28 games, while mostly getting mop-up time in the others.
But with Wade missing recent four games due to a sore knee and then a sprained ankle and with point guard Mario Chalmers having sat out three straight due to a sprained ankle, Miller has started five of Miami’s past six games.
His impact wasn’t immediate. But then Miller had 12 points at San Antonio, drilling 4-of-6 from 3-point range. And then came Tuesday.
Miller scored all 18 of his points in the first half, shooting 7-of-8, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. Miller was asked if that half conjured up memories of how hot he had been in Game 5 against the Thunder, when he shot 7-of-8 from 3-point range and helped lock up the Finals for Miami.
“I wish I could have carried it over to the second half,’’ Miller said about the 102-90 loss in a game the Heat were without nicked-up LeBron James in addition to Wade and Chalmers. “But that’s part of it. I got to get in shape, and go though that, and hopefully get us ready for the playoffs.’’
Miller wore down after 20 first-half minutes against the Knicks, going scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in 16 second-half minutes. His overall 36 minutes marked the most he’s played since logging 42 on Jan. 28, 2011 against Detroit.
The Heat have had a pair of sharpshooting guards deep down the bench this season, the other being James Jones. Both are career 40-percent 3-point marksman.
But what the 6-foot-8 Miller also can give Miami some additional offensive skills and rebounding. For that reason, Spoelstra might find a place for him in his playoff rotation.
“You’re happy for that, one, he’s healthy at this time of the year,’’ Spoelstra said of Miller, who also grabbed eight rebounds Tuesday and handed out four assists. “Secondly, he has a unique skill set because he can not only shoot the basketball from three and deep, but he can put the ball on the floor and he’s a very good rebounder. And I think you saw the whole package (against the Knicks).’’
The whole package hasn’t been on display much since the Heat signed Miller to a five-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2010. He’s been bothered by a litany of injuries, and only has played in 131 of a 222 possible Miami games since he arrived.
“He’s feeling good,’’ Heat center Chris Bosh said of Miller now. “The postseason is coming. Usually, it takes guys over 30 the whole season to get those legs going.’’
It soon will be seen if the “old man’’ from last year can have a playoff encore. No doubt the president will be watching.