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Mike Miller letting it fly

Mike Miller is back in the Heat's rotation, contributing three 3-pointers to Miami's Game 2 win. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

MIAMI -- Watching Mike Miller play basketball last season was not for the squeamish.

There was regularly a mixture of tension, fear and sympathy for a man who looked like he could literally fall apart before our very eyes. From thumb injuries to hernias to back problems, Miller appeared intent on testing the proverb "Time heals all wounds," because he might have had all of them at once.

Even Mario Chalmers, the Heat player who's most often mocked and harassed by teammates, had a quality impression of Miller's pained gait. When Chalmers is successfully making fun of you, there might be a serious problem.

So hearing Miller say these words Sunday night following the Miami Heat's series-tying win against the San Antonio Spurs was equal parts shocking and refreshing:

"I've got a lot of basketball left," Miller said. "It's the best I've felt in five years."

It's hard to decide which is the bigger shock: the fact that Miller, his back and all, is healthy, or that he has been inserted into the rotation at a time when the games mean the most.

Since hitting a pair of 3s in a Heat loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, Miller has been reinserted in Erik Spoelstra's playing rotation, essentially taking over the role of Shane Battier, who hasn't played more than eight minutes in a game since Game 4 against Indiana.

It wasn't necessarily the plan to keep Miller healthy all season and then unleash him with a championship on the line, but that's the way it has worked out.

And Miller, the man who was seriously considering retirement less than a year ago, is contributing and rejuvenated -- even if his playing time comes at the expense of a great friend.

"We were getting to the point where he was thinking, 'Maybe I'll retire. I'll be done,'" Miller's wife, Jen, said.

It would've been understandable if Miller, 33, had called it a career after last season. He just had his John Elway moment, winning a championship and knocking down seven 3-pointers in the series-clincher against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It was amazing enough he was even on the floor given all his obvious ailments. But to drop 23 points on an unsuspecting Thunder team seemed like a sign from up above. But rather than call it quits, Miller, a notorious gym rat, did the unthinkable: He decided to rest.

"This year was the one summer that he just said, 'You know what? I'm gonna let my back rest and see what happens,'" Jen said.

"He didn't touch a basketball -- which was shocking to me -- for at least a month or two. Michael would normally wait, at the most, about 10 days. Even then, he'd say he'll wait 10 days and still go back five days earlier.

"He'd seen two different doctors. One option was surgery, and one was complete rest and work on stretching and getting your back right. I think that really helped."

It did. The pain was gone, as was that walk and that oh-so-familiar grimace.

But the playing time didn't follow.

Miller was still stuck in that uncomfortable position of wanting to play but not wanting to disrupt the team.

Battier, a good friend from their time playing together in Memphis, was getting regular minutes, as was Ray Allen, the Heat's biggest offseason acquisition and all-time NBA leader in 3-pointers made.

So a healthy Miller was in the same spot as a banged-up Miller. It's a different kind of pain than Miller experienced the previous two seasons, but it was just as disheartening.

"It's not easy," said Battier, who's now experiencing what Miller has for much of his Heat tenure. "As a competitor, as a professional, as a veteran who's done it for a long time, there's a tough part. He's been a phenomenal teammate. He's been supportive of the guys, but it's been very difficult on his ego.

"Every coach tells their players, 'Stay ready, we may need ya,' which is like the worst thing you want to say to a player. It's almost like you're patronizing the guy. But to his credit, he always kept his form and kept working. And that's Mike Miller. He's a pro. You're seeing the fruits of it right now."

Miller didn't score a point in 17 minutes of Game 7 against the Pacers, and he said afterward he expected the rotation to include Battier once again when the Finals started.

But there was Miller in the first quarter of Game 1, at the scorer's table ready to continue his welcomed role.

He had five points and four rebounds in the Heat's Game 1 loss, but it was clear his activity and commitment on the defensive end, along with his ability to stretch the floor, were a boost for Miami. And it became more obvious in Game 2, when he hit all three of his 3-pointers, added a steal, a nifty no-look flip pass from beyond half court leading to a LeBron James dunk and countless hustle plays.

Spoelstra said Miller plays similarly to Battier in that he has a knack for being around the ball and makes multiple efforts on the defensive end.

Miller's teammates love him as a weapon.

"As teammates, we want him on the floor," James said after Game 2. "We know what he brings. He's a 6-7, 6-8 2-guard, small forward that can shoot the ball from anywhere and rebound at a high clip. With the lineup we had in the late third [quarter] to the fourth -- me, Rio [Chalmers], Ray, Bird [Chris Andersen] and Mike -- it spreads the floor for our attackers.

"Our shooters got the fluorescent green light on our team. They're not even allowed to pass. … When you have that leeway and that confidence, you just have to let it go."

This is much more the Finals experience Miller expected when he turned down more money from other teams to play in Miami. His previous two weren't nearly as conventional.

In 2011, the Millers were dealing with a perilous situation with their newborn daughter Jaelyn, who'd been born with several holes in her heart that required constant monitoring and possible surgeries. Miller's attention was split between his family and his most significant career moments to date.

"That was such a blur because everything was with Jaelyn," Jen said. "The most amazing thing to me was even though he was playing in the Finals, he was focusing on Jaelyn and me while he was off the court."

Jen added that their pediatric cardiologist recently informed the family that all the holes in Jaelyn's heart have closed, and not only will she not require surgery, but she no longer needs to visit the specialist.

The news was another happy ending for Miller, whose excruciating 2011-12 season ended with that Finals 3-point barrage and a chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.

It's an experience that helped him adjust to this season's surprise role in the championship series.

"It's more experience," Miller said. "It doesn't matter where it is, when you're playing at high levels and you succeed, it obviously helps.

"We're at the highest level of basketball. You don't have much time to get used to it, but you go out and make the most of it."

While Miller was sitting on the bench and seeing only occasional playing opportunities, Jen was the only person who heard him air out his frustrations. And even those weren't necessarily complaints.

"It doesn't upset him that Coach Spo didn't put him in, because he even says Coach Spo is in a tough spot," Jen, a former volleyball player at the University of Florida, said. "What do you do with all these shooters? You can't play all of us at the same time.

"They played a certain rotation. That's what was working, and that's what they're going to stick with until something isn't working."

Now that it's Battier's time to, as he famously said late in the conference finals, "eat a turd sandwich," he's not doing any whining, either.

In fact, if anyone knows the quality of player Miller is, it's Battier, who pointed out Miller constantly flirted with triple-doubles while in Memphis.

"It would be a lot harder if there was a guy who was a jerk or a guy who I didn't have a history with to take minutes," Battier said. "I'll be honest, I'm happy for him and happy he gets his chance.

"I was taught at an early age, you don't complain about playing time. If you're worried about playing time, you know what, do something. Make the coach miserable by playing so well that he can't sit you. That's my task.

"I'm not sticking pins in Mike's voodoo doll. If I do my job, I will get playing time. That's all I can control."

For the first time in a long time, Miller feels in control -- in control of his body and a measure of control in another Heat championship chase.

He's not questioning it. He's just letting it fly.

"Sometimes, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, even when you're frustrated," Miller said. "I feel great. Knock on wood it stays that way."