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You might think that giving up a 44-point second quarter to a 9-21 Eastern Conference team playing the fourth game of a six-game West Coast road trip would've been the lowest point of Wednesday evening for the Denver Nuggets. You'd be wrong, though. (Silly you.) The deepest valley appears to have come just past the midway point of the fourth quarter, with the Philadelphia 76ers well on their way to sending Brian Shaw's Nuggets to their eighth straight loss, a 114-102 debacle that featured a near dust-up on the Denver sideline:
About that "not playing at all" thing — this unexpected sit-down not only snapped a streak of 239 consecutive appearances for the veteran guard, but it also marked just the seventh time in Miller's 15-year NBA career that he hasn't seen game action. Here were the first six:
• Dec. 13, 2001, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers: Not with the team due to a contusion of the right shoulder.
• Dec. 1, 2002, while with the Los Angeles Clippers: Did not dress due to a sprained left ankle.
• Jan. 24, 2003, with the Clippers: Not with the team for personal reasons.
• Dec. 20 and 22, 2006: Didn't suit up for his first two games in Philadelphia after Denver moved him as part of the Allen Iverson trade.
• Dec. 7, 2010, while a member of the Portland Trail Blazers: Not with the team while serving a one-game suspension for body-checking Blake Griffin.
And that's it. Wednesday, though, marked the first time in 1,163 career regular-season games that Miller didn't play as a result of his coach's decision ... and the veteran didn't appreciate it. Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post followed up after the game:
Miller yelled about the disrespect he felt he was being shown by sitting. And if he was being disrespected, he'd do the same to the Nuggets' first-year head coach.
"There's a time and place for everything," Shaw said. "In the middle of the arena in front of everyone ... I just tried to calm it down."
Asked if Miller understood the reasons for his one-game seat on the bench, Shaw said, "You'll have to ask him."
But by that time, Miller had already left.
The DNP-CD continued a recent trend of Shaw de-emphasizing Miller as he searches for second-unit answers to jumpstart his flagging Nuggets. After playing just under 30 minutes in a Dec. 23 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the veteran point guard was limited to 15 minutes in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, 11 minutes in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and just under 10 minutes in a loss to the Miami Heat, culminating with Wednesday's scratch in the loss to Philly.
Miller's numbers (right around six points and three assists in 19 minutes per game on 46 percent shooting) don't exactly pop off the page in a way that seems to demand boatloads of playing time, and if you're looking to shake up a lineup that has underperformed to the tune of nine losses in 10 games and posting a bottom-10 efficiency differential (whether you score more points than you allow per 100 possessions, or vice versa) during a 5-10 month of December, somebody's going to see his minutes curtailed; there's got to be an odd man out, and in this case, it's 'Dre. (Swingman Jordan Hamilton, too — he's gone from 28 minutes on Dec. 28 to 14 total minutes over Denver's past two games.)
Still, there's an argument to be made that despite not being a solo offensive firestarter or a defensive presence (to put it mildly), Miller shouldn't be the one on the outside looking in. For one thing, while the Nuggets have been in a total overall tailspin over the past 10 games, they've been better — or, at least, less awful — with Miller on the court (outscored by 4.5 points-per-100 over 147 minutes) than off it (outscored by 13.2-per-100 over 333 minutes) during their recent 1-9 stretch, according to NBA.com's lineup data. Plus, as a general rule, more 'Dre has been a positive thing for Denver, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann notes:
Given both that and the fact that removing Miller entirely didn't exactly right the Nuggets' sinking ship — even Denver's typically effective reserve lineups seemed stagnant and stuttering against a 76ers defense that entered Jan. 1 as the league's second-worst unit (now just fourth-worst!) — it might make sense to see Miller get another crack at things. Then again, given how vocal and visible his frustration has become, the well-traveled vet could find himself on the move once again before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. I'm not sure "having to be restrained from going after your coach" is the most alluring line item on a prospective acquisition's resume, but Miller's track record of steady offensive production and even-handed orchestration could still make him an attractive commodity for a contending team ... even if it doesn't seem all that attractive to his present head coach.
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