Originally written on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 11/18/14
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The Sixers and Nuggets have emerged from the pack as two of my favorite teams to watch this season, so I’d been anticipating Wednesday night’s match up all week long.  Both of these youthful teams play basketball the way the game should be played–they share the ball, work for good shots, and get after it on defense–making for exciting displays of winning basketball despite their lack of superstar players.  As a matter of fact, each of these probable-playoff squads are likely to go without an All-Star.  They manage to win games without any big-name talents due to their depth and chemistry.  Philly’s bench, known as “the night shift,” features the team’s leading scorer, Lou Williams, along with do-it-all tweener Thad Young, who was last season’s leader in combined points, assists, and rebounds off of the bench.  Denver’s most notable reserve thus far has been veteran scorer Al Harrington, but they’ve got a whole bunch of guys coming off the bench who are expected to produce on a nightly basis.  One of these guys is Andre Miller, a former 76er.  The Andre Miller storyline is one I hadn’t even considered prior to tipoff, but he didn’t allow it to fly under the radar for too long.

Andre Miller… he’s been one of my favorite players for years.  A guy who’s been a starting-caliber point man for over a decade, Andre still hasn’t really found his home.  He’s played fairly-extensive, relatively-successful tenures with a few teams, but it seems that whichever team it is he’s playing for is always in search of something different. 

In the early part of the Carmelo Anthony era the Nuggets were a playoff team with Miller at the helm.  However, they’d been unable to make it beyond the first round two years in a row.  When the opportunity presented itself in the early part of the ’06/07 season the Nuggets elected to trade Miller to Philadelphia for perennial All-Star Allen Iverson.  Miller left Denver on a high note; he’d scored 27 points, grabbed 9 boards, and dished 5 assists in a nine-point Nuggets victory over the Wizards in his final game with the team.  Gilbert Arenas, who was regarded as one of the best point guards in the game at the time, had just 23 points on 30 shots.  Miller had certainly gotten the best of Agent Zero, and I recall posing the argument that the move for AI wouldn’t make Denver a better team.  As great as Iverson was, there aren’t many guys who run a fast break better than Andre Miller.  The Nuggets were an uptempo team and ‘Dre did an excellent job of pushing the rock and getting the ball where it needed to go.  I figured a shoot-first guy like Iverson wasn’t the ideal complement to Carmelo Anthony, and my assessment proved to be accurate.  Denver failed to advance past the first round twice more before flipping Iverson for Chauncey Billups.

Meanwhile, Andre Miller adjusted to his new role in Philly quite smoothly.  The Sixers didn’t have a high-powered offensive system like Denver’s, let alone a scorer like Melo, so ‘Dre was expected to pick up some of the slack in the scoring department.  In his first full season in Philadelphia he boosted his PPG by damn near four points and led the Sixers to a playoff berth.  They lost to the Pistons in six, but that’s as far as AI had led similar crews since 2003.  Miller put up more of his usual numbers as he led the Sixers to another playoff season in ’08/09, but despite his 21 and a half points per game, the Sixers once again lost in six.  This should hardly be considered some sort of disappointment, though.  A six-game series with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic was overachievement, and Miller’s name was written all over it.  That being said, teams look to make changes when a first-round defeat is overachievement.  Philly elected to go with a youth movement and let ‘Dre walk in free agency.  He’d end up signing in Portland for three years.

The Blazer years were a bit of a disappointment for Miller.  He’d gone there thinking he’d be running an up-and-coming show, but instead he ended up in a surprising logjam.  Coach Nate McMillan and star shooting guard Brandon Roy were partial to Steve Blake, and Miller was made a bench player for a while.  All parties eventually patched up the cracks, Blake went on his way, and the Blazers, with Miller at the point, qualified for the playoffs in both ’09/10 and ’10/11.  A couple more first-round exits ensued, but Miller’s team had once again exceeded the expectations of fans and analysts.  Andre’s role wasn’t as great on those Blazer squads as it was with the Sixers, but he was still a key contributor.  As a Blazers he had a 31-point game in a postseason win over the Suns and a shocking 52-pointer in a regular season triumph over the Dallas Mavericks.  Despite his contributions, Portland elected to pass up on Miller’s final year of service and trade him to Denver for Raymond Felton. 

Well, here we are.  Once again, Miller is a key member of a club that’s exceeding expectations.  He and his teams are annually written off by many, but not by those who have followed his career.  Is Andre Miller a guy who can be the main man on a championship-caliber sqaud?  The answer to that question is obviously no.  Andre Miller has proven to be a guy who can lead a team to the playoffs, though, and there’s absolutely no doubt that he can drag any crew to a regular season victory here and there.  I suppose the Andre Miller era wasn’t a super-memorable one for Sixer fans, but they were forced to think back on what a gamer this man was throughout the closing stages of tonight’s 104-108 loss to his Nuggets.

The Sixers got off to a strong start as they out-scored Denver 28-19 in the opening period.  Andre had entered the game about three minutes prior to the end of the quarter and missed his first shot attempt.  He first made his presence felt at the five-minute mark of the second as he nailed a triple to make it 32-41, Sixers.  By halftime he’d scored 8 points and the Nuggets led by six.  I took note of Chris Andersen’s 8 first-half points… it seemed that Philly couldn’t keep track of him as he worked to find open spaces around the rim.  There was one guy who had his eye on the bird the entire time, though, and that was Andre Miller.  ‘Dre assisted on one of Bird’s easy buckets and set him up for a few freethrows.  He had also assisted on four other Nugget baskets before the break. 

Miller was left in the lineup to start the third quarter.  He scored Denver’s first bucket, assisted on their next two, and stuck a pair of jumpers over the next few minutes.  Denver led by about 8 to 10 points throughout the quarter and appeared to be in complete control of the action.  Or not.  You know how the NBA goes; it’s a game of runs!  When Philly made a sudden one–9-0–early in the fourth, guess who wasn’t on the floor? 

Andre re-entered the game with 7:18 left in regulation.  With 5:03 on the clock he nailed a jumper that ended a four-minute Denver drought and brought the Nuggets back to within a point.  After finding a cutting Ty Lawson for a bucket in the paint he got back to putting the ball in the hoop.  He scored Denver’s final 10 points of the fourth quarter as he single-handedly fended off the combined efforts of Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, and Evan Turner. 

He rimmed out a baseline jumper that would’ve won the game, but he created a great look for himself.  I thought for sure it was going in… everything else he’d thrown at the basket was dropping.  Anyway, tough break, on to OT.

The game went back and forth over the first four minutes of the extra period.  Thaddeus Young scored a few key buckets while Ty Lawson made things happen for Denver, but it would be Miller who put the Nuggets up for good.  With the game tied at 104 with 50 seconds to go, Miller elected not to use a Nene screen and dribbled the ball right to the freethrow line.  He pulled up, stuck the jumper, and Philly never scored again.  He finished the game with a season-high 28 points to go along with 8 boards and 10 assists.  He nailed 12 of 20 shot attempts in the vintage performance, yet he played it off as if it was just any other game.  “It’s always good to win against your former team, but I enjoyed these guys and my time here,” he said.  ”They were looking at me as another older point guard. Holiday will be here for a long time.”

That’s the way it always seems to work out for Miller these days… the situation is simply never quite right.  Still, he’s had one hell of a career–that’s both individually and team-wise.  Leading a couple of lackluster Sixer squads to first round exits may not make a man a household name, but there are household names who couldn’t have done it.  Andre Miller is overlooked and undervalued due to his quiet nature and his repeated landings in rebuilding siutations.  Had Brandon Roy and Greg Oden remained healthy Miller may have been able to prove to the masses what he doesn’t need to prove to me–that he can run a successful show.  Considering the players who have been put around him he’s already run successful shows. 

While I love watching him play with this Nuggets team that’s become a favorite of mine, part of me hopes that Miller will be dealt to a real championship contender.  I’d love to see this man win a ring more than almost anyone else in the NBA.  He’s one of my favorite players of all-time, and he deserves some recognition.  Think about Andre Miller’s career and ask yourself, has anyone ever gotten more out of less?  This isn’t a man who’s not blessed with eye-popping leaping ability or otherworldly speed… he’s just a hard-working dude who plays a smart game and tends to take care of business when he’s called upon to do so… even though it doesn’t seem like he should be able to.  His limitations force him to play an unorthodox style, but don’t you ever mistake his nuances for weakness.  Over a decade strong, the man just keeps on keeping on.

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