By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
MEMPHIS, – Had Kendrick Perkins sat on Mike Miller at any point in the past three seasons the way he did Thursday night in Game 3 of the Oklahoma City-Memphis playoff series, a team of EMTs immediately would have rushed to the court carrying a Gulliver-esque spatula. Whatever parts of Miller hadn’t already gone splat would have been scraped up and deposited in the Grizzlies’ trainers room, perhaps not to be seen again until preseason camp.
But here in 2014, that Miller – the one held together with duct tape and baling wire when he managed to play, which wasn’t all that often – is gone. He’s been replaced by one who can laugh off Perkins’ little in-game sitdown and, more important for Memphis, by a guy who did this:
Played in all 82 games.
Miller spent three seasons with the Heat without ever doing that. He topped out at 59 appearances last season and managed to play in only 80 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined. He missed the start of the post-lockout season in December 2011 recovering from sports hernia surgery, and he has had chronic back problems for quite a while. There have been times when Miller, so valuable as a floor spreader and 3-point shooter but so fragile, seemed like he might bruise from a stiff breeze.
Yet here he is at 34, getting healthier. He hadn’t played in 82 since his 2000-01 rookie season in Orlando.
Had Miami known he would be so downright durable, it might have found some way to keep him rather than amnestying the final two years and $12.8 million of his contract last July. (LeBron James and crew hated losing him, but the move did save the Heat about $17 million in luxury tax.) Miller double-dipped by signing with Memphis for the veteran’s minimum of about $1.4 million.
“To be honest, I was healthy last year,” Miller said before the Grizzlies’ practice Friday at FedEx Forum. “It’s just that, when you’re playing behind Hall of Famers, you don’t get that opportunity. I went through a lot with my back and obviously with the sports hernia and stuff like that, but I was fully recovered last year. And just continually got better. I haven’t put a lot of mileage on my body the last three years.”
Miller was available enough in the 2012 playoffs to help Miami win the first championship of its Big Three era. He went 7-for-8 from the arc and scored 23 points in the Game 5 title clincher against Oklahoma City.
Last spring, Miller helped the Heat win again, starting four games in The Finals against San Antonio, shooting 59.1 percent overall and 11-for-18 (61.1) on 3-pointers. But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was leery of Miller breaking down and kept him carefully on the shelf for stretches of the regular season.
No kid gloves for Miller in Memphis, though. He averaged 20.8 minutes, more than in any of his Heat seasons, and ranked second in the NBA in hitting 45.9 percent of his 3-pointers (53.8 percent after the All-Star break).
And get this: Only 23 players in NBA history have played a full 82-game schedule in their 14th season or later.
“He’s been tremendous,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s done a great job with his body in the offseason, just staying lean and staying in shape. He’s done that without pounding on his body.
“You can try to be in great shape but you can do things to your body that just wear it down. He did a great job of keeping himself fresh in the offseason, and our training staff has done a good job with him all season.”
Staying lean without pounding? Sounds like swimming and yoga.
“It pretty much is,” Miller said, laughing. “I didn’t do the swimming part, but I’ve done the 10,000 reps [in the weight room]. I used to do three or four hours in the gym. A lot of that is the reason why my back and stuff were bad.
“Now it’s more maintenance. It’s about coming in here and taking care of my body. Shoot as limited as possible, really. And then getting out in the game and having fresh mind and fresh body.”