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Heat bench shining as playoffs approach

  • Article by: TIM REYNOLDS
  • Associated Press
  • April 7, 2013 - 5:21 PM

MIAMI - 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."

The Heat might not be at full strength for at least a few more days, too. James said Sunday that he has some mild soreness after returning to the lineup following a three-game absence to deal with a strained hamstring, while Bosh indicated that he's more day-to-day with a sore knee. Wade, meanwhile, isn't sure when he will be back on the floor, as he tends to a sore ankle and bruised knee.

"I'm just trying to make sure I'm healthy," Wade said. "The most important thing is to be healthy. When I feel it, I'll get back on the court. Obviously, I want to play. I've just got to make sure that I'm right."

Heat President Pat Riley said Sunday he has no doubt the reigning NBA champions will be ready for the postseason.

"I just want to keep this team healthy," Riley said. "In another six games, this team's going to be ready to get after it."

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.

The Heat will not practice Monday, so it seems likely that at least Wade will not play Tuesday when the Heat host the Milwaukee Bucks in a likely first-round preview.

"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," forward Chris 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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