WASHINGTON (AP)—At the end of the first quarter, Memphis reserve Mike Miller let a jumper fly—far too early in coach Mike Fratello’s estimation.
“Why would you shoot the ball with 8 seconds to go?” Fratello demanded to know. Miller simply shrugged, but what he could have said was: “Hey, I made it, didn’t I?”
Miller hit shot after shot on a series of pick-and-rolls and screens for a season-high 30 points, and the Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing streak by tightening their defense to beat the Washington Wizards 93-82 on Sunday.
A star for two years in college at Florida, then the 2000-01 NBA Rookie of the Year, Miller now could be a serious contender for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
“I get starter’s minutes and I go out there and play. The one thing, when you sign a contract, it doesn’t say that you’re starting, it says that you’re playing on the team,” he said. “And as long as I play on the team, I’m happy. My job is to go in there and give the starters a lift every once in a while.”
And then some. Miller almost single-handedly kept Memphis in the game for stretches, including a personal 9-0 run in the second quarter. At halftime, he had 19 points—two more than all of Memphis’ starters combined.
As Wizards coach Eddie Jordan put it, Miller was “almost undefendable.”
The player himself was more modest.
“I shot well, and my teammates did a good job of finding me. They set good screens. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to those guys,” said Miller, who played 36 minutes. “When you get it rolling, you can’t get it on your own.”
He didn’t get a ton of help in the scoring column; no other Memphis player had more than 13. That was the total for the team’s leading scorer, Pau Gasol, who was in foul trouble most of the game and was limited to 27 minutes.
Memphis averaged under 82 points during its four-game slide, so Sunday’s output must have felt like a real scoring spree. And once again, the Grizzlies played strong defense, particularly over the last three quarters, when the Wizards totaled 55 points.
But unlike during the recent span in which Washington won five of six games, the top trio didn’t get much support Sunday. The Wizards’ other two starters, Brendan Haywood and Jared Jeffries, combined for seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Memphis held Washington to 39 percent from the floor.
“They’re taking charges, deflecting,” Arenas said. “They play good team defense, and that’s what were trying to get to.”
Memphis trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, and 44-41 at halftime. But a 9-0 Memphis run bridging the last two quarters gave the visitors a 75-64 lead early in the final period, and Washington never got closer than six the rest of the way.
Thanks in large part to Miller, whose previous season high was 27 points. Take away Miller’s 8-for-12 shooting in the first half, and the Grizzlies were only 9-for-31 (29 percent).
“I think of him as a starter, but we’ve got him coming off the bench,” Memphis coach Mike Fratello said. “Whether he starts or comes off, he’s going to give you the same effort. He’s been pretty good for us.”
Memphis, 29th in the 30-team NBA in free-throw percentage, went 19-for-23 from the line (83 percent). “In close games on the road you’ve got to make your free throws and we haven’t been able to do that. Today we made them,” Fratello said. … Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended the game. … Jamison, Arenas and Butler form the NBA’s second-highest scoring trio, trailing only Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and Andre Iguodala. … Washington’s Etan Thomas missed a third game because of his grandmother’s death. Jordan said Thomas will return to the team before its next game, Wednesday at Boston.