3-point threat Miller also Grizzlies’ iron man
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies hoped Mike Miller would be healthy once they got to the postseason.
Well, he’s healthy all right. Memphis’ oldest player also turned out to be the Grizzlies’ lone iron man.
After the veteran signed as a free agent last summer when the Miami Heat let him go, Miller was the only player on the roster to appear in all 82 games as he helped the Grizzlies reach a franchise-record fourth straight postseason.
Miller said if it’s possible to take any positive from being injured a lot in recent years, it’s that he put very little mileage on his body.
”I basically played spot minutes in the regular season and played just heavy minutes in the playoffs,” Miller said. ”I’m a 34-year-old right now with about a 30-year-old body, 28-year-old body. I feel great. I’m ready to play.”
Miller, who turned 34 in February, hadn’t played a full 82 games since his rookie season in Orlando in 2000-01. He was limited to 80 games combined in his first two seasons in Miami, though he played 59 games last season as he won two titles in his time with the Heat.
That contributed to the Heat designating Miller as their amnesty player, and Memphis is getting a bargain with Miami paying more than $12 million to Miller this season and next.
He just became the 23rd player in NBA history to play all 82 games in his 14th season or later, joining the likes of Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlin, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and John Stockton. Miller played an average of 20.7 minutes per game with four starts.
But Miller hasn’t just been a regular presence off the bench. He also remains a big threat outside the 3-point line, shooting 45.9 percent, second only to Kyle Korver of Atlanta in the NBA. Miller has been even better since the All-Star break, hitting 55.2 percent.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger said the Grizzlies’ belief that they can score and keep up with the NBA’s good scoring teams goes way up when Miller is aggressive and hitting shots. Miller also brings the 3-point threat the Grizzlies just haven’t had in recent years.
”It’s a big shot in the arm for us,” Joerger said. ”Changes some things. Makes teams wonder how much they can help or where they should come from so it is not the same every time. You can create a little more confusion and be a lot less predictable with your play in the post.”
Guard Mike Conley credits Miller with being a steady influence and true leader all season long. The Grizzlies were 10-15 in mid-December with Marc Gasol out with a sprained left knee before going 40-17. Memphis opens the first round Saturday night at second-seeded Oklahoma City in what will be the third series between these teams in four seasons.
Beyond hitting big 3s, Conley said Miller has dug them out of holes in a lot of games. Conley noted a key moment in Wednesday night’s 106-105 overtime win over Dallas to grab the No. 7 seed.
”He got us out of a timeout and yelled at us just telling us not to hang our heads and all that, that we can still win the game, and that sort of stuff picks us up,” Conley said.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph benefit from Miller’s 3-point shooting the most. His shooting threat keeps defenses from smothering Gasol and Randolph in the paint and creating more room to operate.
”That’s what we’re going to need to win this series,” Randolph said.
Winning even one postseason game in a Grizzlies’ uniform will be a new experience for Miller. He was part of the first three Memphis teams to reach the playoffs between 2004 and 2006 that set an NBA record for futility losing their first 12 postseason games.
Since then, the Grizzlies won their first postseason series in 2011, beating the Spurs. They reached their first Western Conference final last spring with Miller watching their playoff games from afar.
Now Miller wants more than just that first playoff win with Memphis.
”That’s my whole goal,” Miller said. ”I have unfinished business here, and we’re going to see how it plays out.”
NOTES: Joerger was picked the Western Conference coach of the month for April. Memphis went 6-2 in the month, winning five straight to finish the season and clinching a playoff berth. … Playoff tickets for Games 3 and 4 go on sale Saturday morning.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker