Heat bench shining as playoffs approach

MIAMI (AP) - It’s been a running joke with Mike Miller for much of this season. He comes into the Miami Heat locker room before games, sees the jersey hanging in his stall and wonders aloud why someone went to the trouble of putting it there.

Such is life for many Heat players.

The blessing of having a deep team like Miami does is there’s so many combinations to choose from when it’s time to put a lineup together. The curse of having such a team is that there’s a finite number of minutes to go around, so plenty of times players like Miller, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Rashard Lewis _ guys who could possibly play big minutes on other clubs _ have found themselves out of the rotation altogether.

“All you can do is stay ready,” Miller said. “That’s your job.”

And of late, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and now Chris Bosh ailing, that Heat bench has been more than ready.

Playing without James, Wade and Chalmers, the Heat went into San Antonio and won a week ago. Miller and Lewis combined to score 40 points in a win over Charlotte on Friday. On Saturday, with James back in the lineup, Miami’s bench tied a season-high by scoring 53 points in a win over Philadelphia.

For Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the depth is clearly a nice problem to have.

“It takes the right type of professional. These guys make it look much easier,” Spoelstra said. “You look at any profession in any field, egos really do become a factor. Are people really willing to sacrifice part of their role or their ego to be part of something special or different? In most cases, I would argue not. They wouldn’t. And these guys are very unique. They understand what this opportunity is.”

The Heat might not be at full strength for at least a few more days, too. James said Sunday that he has some mild soreness after returning to the lineup following a three-game absence to deal with a strained hamstring, while Bosh indicated that he’s more day-to-day with a sore knee. Wade, meanwhile, isn’t sure when he will be back on the floor, as he tends to a sore ankle and bruised knee.

“I’m just trying to make sure I’m healthy,” Wade said. “The most important thing is to be healthy. When I feel it, I’ll get back on the court. Obviously, I want to play. I’ve just got to make sure that I’m right.”

Heat President Pat Riley said Sunday he has no doubt the reigning NBA champions will be ready for the postseason.

“I just want to keep this team healthy,” Riley said. “In another six games, this team’s going to be ready to get after it.”

Miller might be the poster child for the Heat mantra of bench sacrifice this season.

He was one of the stars of last season’s title-clinching win over Oklahoma City. Despite being so ravaged by back pain that he could barely stand upright much less run, he still made seven 3-pointers in that Game 5 triumph. Many people expected Miller to either retire or be the subject of Miami’s still-unused amnesty provision _ something the team did not consider _ after that game.

Instead, he got healthy. His back was corrected without surgery, just rehab and conditioning.

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