Raptors 103 - HEAT 120 Recap

MIAMI, January 22 – Mike Miller’s first regular season points at the AmericanAirlines Arena took a long time to fall through the net. The right elbow jumper hit iron once, twice, left then right, hitting the backboard before hanging for another millisecond on the rim and dropping in.

And with that, a metaphor was born for Miller’s slow return to his usual self since returning from thumb surgery on December 20. In 10 appearances, he had scored 15 points, total, shooting 2-of-12 from beyond the arc while often looking hesitant to shoot with a brace wrapped around his right hand.

He didn’t look like a 40 percent career three-point shooter, one so dynamic that the HEAT expected to rely on him for a good portion of their playmaking when they signed him last summer. But in practice, both Miller and Erik Spoelstra stressed that it would take some time, the coach saying they had always planned on things taking some time.

“When you’ve been injured but you’re trying to get back into one the rotation . . . it’s not as easy as people think,” Spoelstra said. “There has to be a process there.”

It may be just one game, but after Saturday night’s 120-103 win over the Toronto Raptors -- which snapped a four-game losing streak -- Miller’s process may be ending.

After that first-quarter jumper that teetered and tottered on the rim, Miller went off, scoring a franchise-high 22 points in the second quarter, hitting five threes and 8-of-12 shots overall. He spotted up, he cut, curled off down screens, pump faked, and shot off the dribble.

“We got Mike here for a reason,” LeBron James said. We all know why he was brought to this team, and that was to spread the floor.

“He’s got one of the best jump shots, one of the best releases we have in this game.”

Miller finished with 24 points in the first half, with the HEAT leading 66-40, and put up 32 points on 20 with 10 boards in all, making 6-of-11 from downtown. After the team had slogged through an overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks last Tuesday, Miller was the primary benefactor of the HEAT’s most instinctive and efficient first half in weeks. With James the offensive catalyst as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sat out, the ball moved fluidly from side to side, and Miller made good each time it found him.

“[LeBron] told me to be aggressive before the game,” Miller said. “It was really the first time he said something to me, told me have it loaded tonight, have it ready to go.

“Basically he just said way to shoot it, welcome back, lets have some fun,” Miller added of an interaction at midcourt.

James’ version was a little different.

“I told him, welcome back,” James said. “It’s good for you that you’re now relevant again.

“When we go to New York (Thursday), they’re going to have Mike Miller in the scouting report.”

The report on the HEAT has been very different the past couple of weeks, with rotation players going in and out of the lineup. Spoelstra has played with a number of small-ball lineups, using James at power forward often, in another instance starting Joel Anthony alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Tonight was the biggest change of all, though, as Mario Chalmers joined James, Ilgauskas, Miller and James Jones on court at tip off – not only the first time that group had started together, but the first time they had played as a unit on the court all season.

The results were exceptional, albeit against a team ranked 28th in defensive efficiency. The HEAT took a 32-17 lead after the first quarter, and while the Raptors came within single digits in the fourth quarter, it was the typical NBA story of the run that was destined to fall short.

In the coming months, that’s how Miller’s winter return may be remembered. As another story of a player who struggled with an injury – to his shooting hand, no less – until he had that one reminder game that shook it all off and began the season fresh.