Hard work and new moves have helped Reggie Miller regain his aim
Even though he shot a career-low 43.8% during 1998-99 and dipped
all the way to 39.7% during the playoffs, Reggie Miller never
stopped believing he would lead the Pacers back into contention
against the Knicks in last spring's Eastern Conference finals.
Miller's teammates shared his confidence. Facing elimination in
Game 6, they knew he would deflate hated New York with his
swagger, unleashing a barrage of the perimeter bombs that have
long been his trademark. The Pacers waited...and waited...and
waited...until the game, and Indiana's season, ended with a
90-82 loss. On that night Miller shot 3 of 18 from the floor.
"If I could do it over again, I'd still want the ball in
Reggie's hands," Pacers coach Larry Bird declared after the
Pacers were eliminated.
Through the summer Miller worked out four days a week with a
personal trainer, adding 12 pounds of muscle to combat the
fatigue that had plagued him through the postseason. Indiana
fans eagerly awaited the return of Miller time. Through the
first 15 games of this season they waited...and waited...and
waited...but Miller shot 36.3%, and there were vexing questions.
Was the extra weight hampering him? (No, he insisted.) Was his
uncertain future as a free agent wearing on him? (No, he
insisted.) Was it possible that at 34, Miller was on the
downslope of his career? (No, he insisted, rejecting the theory
that those close to him say rankled him most.)
He silenced his critics in the best way he knew how: by finally
drilling jumpers. After going 2 for 11 in a win over the Trail
Blazers on Nov. 29, Miller shot 51.4% from the floor over the
next five games. The Pacers won all five.
Although Indiana's fans have breathed a collective sigh of
relief, those who know Miller best say they knew the slump was
not the sign of a deteriorating game, because the rest of
Miller's repertoire--his free throw shooting, rebounding and
defense--was as solid as ever. "I wasn't really worried," says
Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "He's gone through periods like
Indiana assistant Rick Carlisle, who calls the plays for the
team, says Miller needed to adjust to the rules changes, which
prevented his using picks as effectively and setting an opponent
up, then bumping and releasing, as he had done so masterfully.
Together, Carlisle and Miller broke down videotape of every
offensive set involving Miller. "We decided it was time for him
to reinvent himself offensively," says Carlisle. "We started
concentrating on some one-on-one moves that would a) help create
a shot for him, b) create a double team and present an open shot
for a teammate, or c) place him in a position to get to the line
more, especially since he's a 90 percent [free throw] shooter."
Carlisle, who coaches at Pete Newell's Big Man's camp each
summer, also tutored Miller on some of the footwork he teaches
the big men to create space for themselves. Miller took note of
each suggestion. In a win over the Spurs on Dec. 7 he implemented
one of the drive-and-kick sequences he and Carlisle had discussed
and hit center Rik Smits for an open basket.
In the meantime he also made an adjustment suggested by his
father, Saul, who called him after the Portland game to tell him
he needed to take his time in executing his moves. "He said I
was in too big of a hurry," says Miller. "Sometimes it's good to
be a little slow and read the defense."
Although the Pacers have added young players to their nucleus,
their fortunes still rest on Miller's slender shoulders. He and
his close friend and backcourtmate, Mark Jackson, will be free
agents next summer, and each has asked Walsh for an extension,
requests Walsh says he cannot agree to until he has assessed his
team's future at the end of the season. "It's not a lack of
respect," Walsh says. "It's where we are as a team. I understand
why Reggie would be ticked off at me. He's done everything I've
ever asked. We've been together 13 years. This has been a
difficult thing for me."
If Miller wants to make a case that he's still one of the
deadliest snipers in the game, he appears to be back on track.
Like most shooters, he loathes discussing his slump, so it may
never be clear which kernel of advice was most helpful. We do
know this: Even when Reggie Miller was missing jumper after
jumper, no one was ever dumb enough to leave him open.
Heat Without Hardaway
Miami Plays the Waiting Game
The Heat's ascension to the top of the East--despite the absence
until last week of injured power forward Otis Thorpe--should be
cause for celebration in Miami. Yet the Heat is walking on
eggshells and will be for the remainder of the season.
The source of the team's trepidation is point guard Tim
Hardaway, who was placed on the injured list on Dec. 1 with
soreness in his right knee. Through Monday, Miami had gone 7-2
in games he didn't play, but that statistic is a mirage. Coach
Pat Riley knows the Heat is not a contender if forced to go the
distance with rookie Anthony Carter at the point. Carter, who is
capable of spectacularly good--and spectacularly bad--plays, is
consistent in one regard: his inability to knock down the
perimeter jumper. Veteran Rex Walters has contributed solid
minutes, but he becomes a liability if he's on the floor too
long, and at week's end he was a candidate to be cut loose
should Miami settle on Matt Maloney, the best available point
guard, as a roster addition.
Rest and therapy did not provide quick improvement in Hardaway's
knee--which, by the way, is not the same knee that required
arthroscopic surgery last May. Surgery in this case is not an
option for the 33-year-old Hardaway, since all the cartilage in
his right knee was removed when he underwent a procedure to
remove a cyst in college. Since then Hardaway has played with
bone on bone, which can be excruciating.
Riley, whose face lately has been etched with worry over
Hardaway's uncertain status, says he doesn't want him coming
back too soon. "I want him to be as close to 100 percent as he
can be," says Riley, before adding grimly, "The truth is I don't
think Tim, for the rest of his career, will ever be 100 percent."
In Hardaway's absence the Heat has turned to Voshon Lenard and
Jamal Mashburn as intermittent ball handlers. The emergence of
Mashburn, 27, who through Monday was averaging 18.7 points and
5.7 rebounds and enjoying his finest season, has helped fill the
void, but asking him to handle the ball has at times taken away
from the rest of his game. In last Saturday's 92-88 loss to
Seattle, Mashburn had seven turnovers.
While buoyed by their ability to thrive in his absence, Miami's
players know they need Hardaway, whose agony over sitting is
exacerbated by the fact that he's in the final year of his
contract. Hardaway was hoping to return on Dec. 16, but his
teammates have urged him to take his time.
"We can hold down the fort a little longer," says center Alonzo
Mourning. "The time we'll really need him is the latter part of
Line of the Week
Finely Done, Finley
Mavericks swingman Michael Finley, Dec. 11 versus the Suns: 48
minutes, 12-of-26 FG, 6-of-7 FT, 33 points, 14 rebounds, 10
assists. Finley was the catalyst for a 120-115 upset of his
former team and set a career high in rebounds along the way.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBA PHOTOS After adjusting to the rules changes, Miller is out of his slump and finding the hoop.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The Heat hopes Hardaway's tender knee heals.
Around The Rim
Just how bad is the bad blood between former Celtics coach M.L.
Carr, who is still on Boston's payroll as the executive vice
president of corporate development, and current coach and
president Rick Pitino? Team sources say that members of Pitino's
regime were so insistent on getting Carr out of the Celtics'
offices that Boston now picks up the tab for an office for him
in the suburbs. And another thing: Don't bother to look for Carr
in the team media guide. His bio was dropped this year....
The Nets talked with the Rockets about a swap of Kendall Gill
for Walt Williams and Tony Massenburg. New Jersey also inquired
about Sixers guard Larry Hughes, but the Raptors, if they are
willing to part with 20-year-old swingman Tracy McGrady and a
first-round pick, would have a far better chance of landing
Hughes, in whom they've expressed interest....
Wizards fans have clearly soured on disappointing forward Juwan
Howard, booing him for even the smallest of transgressions....
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has made it clear that he wants
Shaquille O'Neal prepared to play 40 minutes every night.
Theories abound as to why: Is it Jackson's way of getting Shaq
to drop a few extra pounds, or of driving home the point to the
front office that he needs a backup center, or of publicly
identifying O'Neal as his most indispensable player? Or is it
perhaps all of the above?