- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2014

Time is not on Andre Miller’s side.

At age 38, playing a demanding position against some of the world’s best athletes, the Washington Wizards reserve point guard can accept that. But it also means his time on the court is infused with urgency.

When the Wizards take the floor Monday night against the Indiana Pacers, the start of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, no one will be happier than Miller, who prior to a Feb. 20 trade to Washington endured a miserable season with the Denver Nuggets that had him pondering the end.

“It was maybe the first or second time in my career where I was like ‘I need to step away, move on and do something else,’” Miller said.

That was, in part, his own fault. Miller lashed out at Denver coach Brian Shaw during a Jan. 1 game after it became clear he would not play at all that night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

It was an uncharacteristic public outburst from a respected veteran player who has had few during a 15-year NBA career, but this one led to a two-game suspension. Miller never returned to the Nuggets in the seven weeks before the trade with Washington that left both parties relieved.

“It was a long break,” Miller said. “I got a chance to sit around and look at myself, where I see myself going for the rest of my career, what I want to accomplish. I still have passion for basketball.”

Joining a team in the playoff hunt helped. Denver crashed from a 57-win campaign in 2012-13 to missing the postseason this year. It’s no coincidence that Miller’s tirade against Shaw came at the end of an eight-game losing streak.

Andre is a competitor and when he thinks they’re taking something away from him unfairly, he will speak his mind,” said former Nuggets coach George Karl, who was fired last June after nine seasons in Denver and is now an ESPN analyst. “He’s a winner, a leader. Is he perfect? No. But my personal opinion is Andre deserved better treatment than he got in Denver.”

In Washington, Miller’s role was quickly defined. He would serve as John Wall’s backup at point guard and provide reliable minutes off the bench. He had played for Wizards coach Randy Wittman in Cleveland during the first three years of his career and with teammates Martell Webster (Portland) and Al Harrington (Denver) in two previous stops.

“When [Miller] talks, people listen,” Wittman said. “He gives us a calming effect on the floor with our second unit. He stabilizes, controls the game. We didn’t have that until we got him with that second group. That was an important factor, I think, on how we closed the season out.”

Miller hasn’t been a starting guard since his final year with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010-11. His physical gifts are almost gone. But then Miller never really relied on them anyway. They didn’t help him lead Utah to the NCAA title game as a junior in 1998 or become a consensus first-team All-American as a senior there. They haven’t helped him stay in the NBA this long, either.

Teammates joke about Miller’s “old man” game, one built around a high basketball IQ, exquisite passing, an innate feel for proper rhythm and spacing. Highlight-reel plays aren’t part of the package.

Webster distinctly remembers throwing Miller an outlet pass in a game against Denver in 2010. The ensuing tomahawk dunk so shocked his Portland teammates, it sparked a second-half rally in a game they ultimately lost. With Miller, that play is an exception to the rule.

Nene, Washington’s center now and a teammate in Denver then, joked about Miller’s age, even if he still “looks like he’s 27.” But he and Webster turned serious when they noted that Miller’s presence has helped Wall, an All-Star this season for the first time at age 23, become a smarter player, too.

“I, honestly, see John is a little bit more poised and kind of taking a weight off his shoulders,” Webster said. “Bringing Dre in has made it a little bit easier. He gets everybody involved and doesn’t really care about individual stats. John has always been that way, but now I think he realizes it’s not always important to score all the points. You’ve got to rely upon your teammates just as much as you rely upon yourself.”

The Wizards qualified for the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and, when they beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round, helped Miller get somewhere he’d never been during his long career: the second round.

According to STATS, Miller had played the most regular-season games (1,184) and playoff games (57) in NBA history before advancing to the second round. That alone helped salvage his season.

In the playoff series with Chicago, Miller averaged 10.4 minutes per game, down from the 14.7 he played in 28 regular-season games with Washington. He scored only 20 points in the series and had five assists. But he also only committed five turnovers. If Wall gets hurt or in foul trouble against Indiana, Miller is a luxury the Wizards didn’t have earlier in the season.

“Andre Miller is good enough to win a game in a playoff series [or] make someone else good enough to win the game,” Karl said. “He understands how valuable a bench is, how to get a Martell Webster or Bradley Beal into the game. He has a way of making an offense play at a high, high level — for a period of time. He’s still a bench player. But I’m a big believer that the surprise player, the wild card, can have a huge impact in the playoffs.”

But the danger, according to Karl and Miller, is assuming future success. Washington has reached the second round against the top-seeded Pacers with a young, emerging backcourt in Wall and Beal. That does not guarantee the Wizards will be back here year in and year out.

Miller remembers all the close calls, the painful moments that kept him from advancing. The Nuggets were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference last season and set a franchise NBA record for wins. But they lost in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the first round. The year before they lost in seven to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It never happened for Denver and management made sweeping changes in the offseason. Miller says he won’t necessarily push that message on his teammates. But the way he approaches these games says it for him.

“I think they kind of know. But even for me, this is new territory, too,” Miller said. “I’m sure a few of the young guys will get the opportunity again. But for me the window is slowly closing. I just want to stay in the moment.”

Zac Boyer contributed to this report

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