Practice? Miller living familiar Heat script

MIAMI

   "Practice? We're talking about practice, man. We're talking about practice. We're talking about practice?"

   With apologies to Allen Iverson, yes, we're talking about practice.

   And in the case of Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, we're talking about being denied what he and many in the NBA, contrary to Iverson's 2002 rant, consider a fundamental right:

   The opportunity to push through practice without limitation or outside interference.

   Yet while Miller is willing, the Heat also recognize his body isn't always able.

   To a degree, this coaching staff, or at least much of it, is more than familiar with nursing a balky back through a season.

   They did it a decade ago with Dan Majerle during his final season with the team, when Pat Riley was coach and current coach Erik Spoelstra was on staff. They plan to do again this season with Miller, in hopes of a few well-timed encores of his 3-for-all in Game 5 of last season's NBA Finals.

    "We're working through this together, really, with a lot of communication, knowing that he's the ultimate competitor, wants to be out there every turn," Spoelstra said after a recent practice, one that saw Miller ushered off the court before the conclusion. "We've talked a lot in general this year about big-picture thinking, what will help us the most, particularly at the end."

    For Miller, 32, being separated from his teammates is awkward, uncomfortable and certainly not at his request.

   "It's tough," he said.  "But I guess as I've gotten older, I've sort of had to listen to my body a little more and listen to people around me. When you're younger, it's work harder, harder, harder. And when you get older, you've got to be smarter about it and protect your body."

   If nothing else, Miller at least will have the opportunity to commiserate, with Majerle arriving Monday to AmericanAirlines Arena as a Phoenix Suns assistant coach.

   Like Miller, Majerle, 35 at the time, entered his "maintenance" season wanting to push through as much of practice as possible. Then he began to move like Miller was moving at the end of last season, leaving Riley with little choice.

    "To be honest with you, it's not something that I wanted to do. It's not something that he wanted to do. It was more out of necessity," Majerle related recently. "I remember after one practice, I can remember it like it was yesterday, somebody threw a pass and my brain was like, 'OK, go get that pass. You can intercept it,' and my body just wouldn't move. And I was so frustrated, I talked to Coach Riley after practice and I said, 'I don't know if I can do this anymore. I don't know if I can go through the practices, still play, I just can't do it.'

    "And that's where we came to the realization that maybe I just should work hard on the sidelines, be ready to play, do the best I can in practice, do what I can do, but save it for the games."

   It hasn't gotten that bad yet for Miller, but he appreciates what Riley did for Majerle and what Riley, now Heat president, might have to mandate again.

    "The one thing he does," Miller said of Riley, "is protect his players."

    To a degree, Majerle said it takes selflessness to also appreciate when to step aside.

     "You want to be out there battling in practice and doing the things that they're doing," he said. "It makes you feel like more of a teammate, but in my case, I didn't have a choice."

    Miller isn't to that point yet. And Spoelstra wants to keep it that way.

    "He will practice," Spoelstra said. "He will keep his rhythm. At times we'll hold him out of some drills or if it's too long of a practice. Right now, I'm already being judicious."

IN THE LANE

     SIDE STORY: One thing Dan Majerle wanted to make clear about sitting out practices during his final season with the Heat was that he hardly was shirking. "Make no mistake now, it wasn't like I was over there drinking a Margarita and having a donut," the Suns assistant coach said of being held out of those Heat practices due to a balky back. "I mean I was on the bike, I was like the Tour de France, without the PEDs. I was working hard. I was doing the weights. I was doing everything but the physical practice. But I just wasn't sitting over there on a chair watching. The one thing about Miami, and I heard, you'd almost rather be practicing than on the side, because they're not just going to let you sit there."

     BARRON'S BREAK: A week ago, Earl Barron wasn't even able to crack the Washington Wizards' preseason rotation against the Heat in Kansas City. This past week, the former Heat center not only found himself with an unlikely spot on the Wizards' regular-season roster, but with credible rotation work in their season opener against the Cavaliers. "My chance here was kind of slim," Barron told the Washington Post. "But I knew deep down if I showed up every day in practice, showed up every day in training camp, play hard in the preseason, I'd give myself a chance to make the team and I did that." While Barron got his break when veteran Brian Cook was cut, his long-term outlook is unclear, with this latest opportunity coming amid the injury absences of Nene and Kevin Seraphin. Since winning a 2006 championship ring at the end of the Heat's bench, Barron has been with five teams, in the D-League and has played overseas.

     BEASLEY'S BACK: On his third team and still trying to find his NBA way, former Heat forward Michael Beasley returns Monday to AmericanAirlines Arena, with the Phoenix Suns. After uneven stints with the Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves, this may be the last chance for the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft to be viewed as any type of leading man. "There's going to be many things that we give him and ask him to do," Suns coach Alvin Gentry, the former Heat coach, said during a recent radio appearance. "One of the things that I also talked to him about is the old saying about to whom much is given, much is expected." Unlike with the Heat and 'Wolves, Beasley clearly is cast as the Suns' featured scorer. "This is going to be the first time in his career as an NBA player that a lot is expected of him and asked to do," Gentry said. "Basically, without saying it, I basically said, 'You have to be the man on this team.' "

     RIVERS REFLECTS: Doc Rivers' weekly radio appearance on Boston's WEEI offered an interesting spin on players supposedly turning their back on the Celtics. In discussing Ray Allen's offseason defection to the Heat, Rivers mentioned of last summer's widely reported agreement between then-New Orleans Hornets free-agent forward David West and the Celtics that West, "basically told me he was coming." West instead signed with the Indiana Pacers. Rivers also inferred that Allen changed his phone number during the offseason, keeping the two from talking until this past week. "I wish I had a chance to talk to him," Rivers said.

NUMBER

    10. Seasons as teammates for Heat's Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. The only longer active pairings involve the San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker 12 seasons; Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, 11 seasons).

     iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat.

 

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