The running play-by-play of the Wizards’ 94-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night doesn’t fairly explain the value of Andre Miller’s first important play with his new team. It simply reads: “Austin Rivers shooting foul (Andre Miller draws foul).”
It leaves out how Trevor Booker kicked the ball out to Miller with little time to operate, how the shot clock was about to expire when Miller tried a back-to-front between-the-legs dribble, nearly lost the ball and still had the wherewithal to notice that Rivers had was playing him too tightly. Miller jumped, threw the ball toward the rim and coerced the official into blowing a whistle that resulted in two free throws — and subsequently, two points — with less than a second remaining on the shot clock.
In a game in which every point counted, Miller’s court awareness and craftiness made a difference, even if it came in a limited, 16-minute dose.
“He is who I think he is and it’s good that he’s here,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Miller.
Back in his familiar No. 24 jersey, Miller had five points, three rebounds and three assists in his first NBA game since Dec. 30. He was with the team for fewer than two days before making his debut, but got a crash course on the offense and schemes.
In his 15th season, Miller is familiar with the systems that most teams run and knows that Wittman has incorporated much of Flip Saunders’s offense since the two were together in Cleveland. But he still spent several minutes going over sets with Wizards assistant Ryan Saunders after his first practice.
Miller’s teammates were impressed by how quickly he grasped what the team runs. He failed to connect with Kevin Seraphin on his first pass, which led to a layup by Rivers on the other end. After that, Miller essentially played error-free basketball, including finding Bradley Beal coming around a curl for a jumper and cutting toward the basket to take a pass from Nene and set up Seraphin for an uncontested dunk.
“I think I’m going to fit in fine,” Miller said. “I got some shooters with Martell [Webster], some athletes with Booker and Seraphin, coming in and banging around. I’m going to try to get the ball up a little bit more, quicker and speed up the tempo, probably stabilize the bench a little bit more.”
The Wizards allowed Miller to work and create in the low post, as he has done for much of his career, and it opened another dimension for the offense. Miller finally made a field in the fourth quarter when he caught the ball on the right side of the basket, backed down Pelicans guard Brian Roberts and powered his way to the hoop for a layup.
“I thought I played probably too much minutes, but I’m just happy the team got a win. It was fun to be back out there. I thought I would be a little bit tired but I felt good,” Miller said. “It’ll probably take like a week. My wind was cool. I’m not going to worry about the offense right now. If I do feel like I need to put a shot up, I’m going to try to go into the post and get an easy bucket. The legs will come.”
The rust of the extended layoff was evident as Miller front-rimmed his two jumpers. But a lack of endurance didn’t affect his passing and decision making when he made a beautiful, two-handed outlet pass to a struggling Beal for a dunk. “Obviously his legs aren’t there,” Wittman said. “It’s going to take a little bit, get him running up and down the floor, and get his legs back underneath him. He just makes those little plays that no one really sees.”