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Steve Aschburner

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Mike Miller and company know they have to make their opportunities count against Boston.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

For once, Heat bench an actual advantage against Celtics


Posted May 29 2012 10:10PM

MIAMI -- LeBron James. Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh.

LeBron LeBron LeBron LeBron. Dwyane Dwyane Dwyane Dwyane. Chris. James, Wade, James, Wade, James, Wade, Bosh, James, Wade. The King, D-Wade and ... Chris.

Now you have a rough approximation of what it feels like, in terms of recognition and public awareness, to be a member of the Miami Heat's supporting cast. With so much attention focused on the franchise's two superstar wing players and, in these Eastern Conference finals, on its injured power forward, there isn't much spotlight left for the other guys.

Which is what Shane Battier, by the way, considers them, himself included.

"We're 'The Other Guys,' " Battier said, referencing a 2010 " buddy" comedy. "You know that movie with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell? 'Where's the team at?' 'I dunno.' 'Send in the other guys!'"

Pips would work, too, considering the other Heat players' place in the team pecking order is akin to Ms. Knight's backup singers. It seems, at once, an easy gig and a thankless gig. In terms of the former, there's no denying that many NBA players would be happy to ride the jersey tails of Miami's Big Three, making a second consecutive run for The Finals since the team came together 22 months ago.

Regarding the latter, though, it can't be fun to always be the guys riding in coach while the stars sit in first class (metaphorically, that is, since they all ride the same all-posh Heat charter jet). It can't feel good to be cited as the team's primary weakness -- thin bench, lack of depth -- when only a chunk of money was left over to pay "the help." James, Wade and Bosh got about $47 million of the Heat's $80 million payroll this season. Three guys were paid more than $15 million each, five made between $3 million and $5.4 million and 13 players were paid $1.5 million or less.

And even when James gets criticized (often irrationally) for his struggles to close out tight games, when Wade hears noise about his aging legs or Bosh catches flak for playing soft, the underlying assumption is that with just a few better role players, Miami might be unstoppable.

"They definitely have a lot of pressure on them," Indiana guard Darren Collison said during the previous round of the Heat's "others." "You kind of feel for them at times because, if they miss an open shot in the closing minutes, they get crucified. But it comes with the territory when you've got three potential Hall of Famers on your team. They're going to build pieces around them, and that's your job, you've got to be able to come through under pressure."

Curiously, though, Miami's backups don't figure to take as much grief here in the East finals. For once -- for the first time in a while and maybe ever in a playoff series -- the Heat appears to have an edge over the opposition in terms of depth and bench production.

It was there in the Game 1 victory Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena -- Miami got 16 points and 12 rebounds off its bench, compared to 14 and 5 for Boston, and 58 percent of its scoring from players not named James or Wade. It figures to be there for as long as this series last, due to the Celtics' especially thin ranks this spring.

That edge wasn't there in the last round vs. Indiana -- the Pacers were a true ensemble, almost too democratic, without a reliable go-to player late in games. It probably won't be there if Miami advances to The Finals, because both Oklahoma City and San Antonio can go deeper, with more quality, than the Heat. The Thunder has current Sixth Man of the Year in James Harden, the Spurs have 2008 winner Manu Ginobili and, while it's true Mike Miller won that award in 2006, he did it at age 25, playing 31 minutes and averaging nearly 14 points a game for Memphis.

These days, Miller is 32, rattles when he runs and is good for maybe 15-20 minutes, scoring at about half his old rate.

"You might get shots once every eight, nine minutes," Miller said, when asked about the unique challenges of being a non-brand name Heat. "You've got to be ready to make 'em. When you're accustomed to situations where the ball's in your hands and you're getting 14, 15 looks, you can manage missing one or two. Here you've got to be ready to play. But that's a good pressure to have. I don't mind it."

Mind it? It's what Miller, Battier and the others signed up for when they migrated to South Florida. If you were to join a team with James, Wade and Bosh and still expect a lot of touches or frequent star turns, that would be your mistake, not coach Erik Spoelstra's or team president Pat Riley's.

"I'm in a much different place, [with] Mike Miller, James Jones -- we've made our money, so to speak," Battier said. "We're not playing for money, we're not playing for contracts, we're playing for a championship. And so when you're playing purely for a championship and nothing else, it's easy to sacrifice stats, to sacrifice notoriety. We don't care. We laugh about it. We don't care, as long as we win and we do our jobs. That's all that matters.

"For younger players, it's tougher, no question. You're trying to establish yourself in this league and trying to get that next contract and trying to stay in the league. For the old farts, it's not as difficult."

Of course there's old and then there's old, with the Celtics wringing heavy minutes out of veteran starters Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett because the Boston bench is so incomplete. There are a lot of one-way players sitting over there now -- Greg Stiemsma, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic think offense while Mickael Pietrus and maybe Ryan Hollins are best used defensively.

This is not the Boston bench of the recent past. In its 2008 championship season, the backups included James Posey, Tony Allen, Eddie House, Leon Powe and Glen Davis. With the regular starters averaging 73.3 points per game, the reserves chipped in an average of 27.2 points. Two years later, Posey and Powe were gone but Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels had come aboard and the bench provided 26.5 points nightly to the starters' 72.7.

This season, the Celtics' usual starters averaged 73.8 points while the bench contributed 18.0. In the playoffs, the breakdown is 74.6 to 12.8. But then, the cupboard is bare. Forwards Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox went down with heart issues, big man Jermaine O'Neal was broken down when he exited in April and guard Avery Bradley, his 6.7 ppg and his sticky perimeter defense were lost after Game 4 of the last round to shoulder surgery.

The result? Long minutes for some long-in-the-tooth starters. Pierce and Allen played about 39 minutes each and whenever Garnett (30:41) sat down, James and Wade attacked the rim relentlessly. That's why this notion that the Celtics are going to "physical up" the series in Game 2 seems overblown; if the starters get into foul trouble, the Boston backups aren't exactly the cavalry.

"We need more from the Boston Celtics," coach Doc Rivers said, diplomatically declining to call out individual players. "I think all of us, coaching staff, players, we can all do better."

The Heat supporting cast, however, just has to do enough, surgically, at one end or the other. It can be Battier joining in on the gang-defense against Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo or Miller hitting a couple 3-pointers or Joel Anthony coming in to block shots and grab misses. Such contributions, once meager, now look measured, providing just enough to push Miami over the top .

"Every player in this league is a role player -- that's the secret," Battier said. "It's just that some players have their role to be a 30- or 40-point scorer. For the others, it's just doing your job. Everyone has a job to do and every job is vital if you want to win."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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