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Miami Heat's Mike Miller, a Mitchell native, laughs during an NBA finals practice Wednesday, in Miami. The Heat lead the Dallas Mavericks 1-0 in the best-of-seven series. (AP Photo)

Miller, Heat three games away from NBA championship

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By TRAVIS MESTER

The Daily Republic

When Mike Miller signed his five-year, $25 million free-agent contract with the Miami Heat last summer, this is exactly what he envisioned.

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Well, in regards to basketball at least.

Miller, a Mitchell native, scored six points and had five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench for the Heat in their 92-84 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Miami.

But going after an NBA championship is not the only battle Miller is in right now.

His newborn daughter, Jaelyn, was brought home from a South Florida hospital Saturday afternoon, about two weeks after the baby arrived.

"There's been zero sleep," Miller told The Daily Republic in a phone interview Wednesday night. "There will be time to sleep when she's 100 percent healthy and the finals are over."

Jaelyn had spent some time in the pediatric intensive care unit with four holes in her heart -- a condition called a ventricular septal defect. Jaelyn is the third child for Miller and his wife, Jennifer.

"She's doing a lot better now," Miller said of his newborn.

On the court, Miller and his Heat teammates can take one more step toward a championship when Game 2 tips off at 8 p.m. tonight on ABC.

Miller left Game 1 in the late stages of the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. He went up for a rebound -- and secured it -- against Dallas center Tyson Chandler midway through the final 12 minutes. Miller grimaced and grabbed at the shoulder while running up court. He was removed from the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

He left AmericanAirlines Arena with his arm in a sling after the game Tuesday evening, but was back at practice Wednesday without a support on the shoulder. Miller said he expects to play his regular role this evening.

"It's getting better," said Miller, who said he will continue to wear a protective sleeve that extends from his left shoulder to his wrist. "I'll only have to deal with it for six more games, maximum, so I'll be just fine."

Miller said, because of the 2-3-2 format in the finals, tonight's game against the Mavericks is "a must-win game" for the Heat. After tonight's game, the series shifts to Dallas for Games 3, 4 and 5 before returning to Miami, if necessary.

"I bet Dallas feels the same way," Miller said of the Heat's must-win mentality heading into today. "With the format in the finals, it's going to be important for us to get Game 2 and not have to worry about going to Dallas for three straight with a tied series."

After being used sparingly during the Heat's first two playoff series wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, Miller has been a contributor over the past six games. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in a win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls. Miller helped close out the Bulls with seven points and six rebounds in the Game 5 clincher.

He said Wednesday that these are the types of series he had always hoped to be a part of, even back when he was leading the Mitchell Kernels to back-to-back state titles in 1996 and '97. He followed his prep career up by starring for coach Billy Donovan at the University of Florida in the late 1990s.

"This is obviously where I wanted to be and I know those are big dreams to have," he said. "I'm just enjoying the moment at this point."

Miller said the media demands and the all-day, everyday attention is what is most different about the NBA Finals, as opposed to what he has already experienced in his decade-long professional career. He added that Dallas' all-star forward Dirk Nowitzki is "about as good as they get." Nowitzki, a 7-foot power forward with shooting range to the 3-point arc, had 27 points and eight rebounds in Game 1.

"Offensively, if he wants to get a shot in his spot, he's going to get it," Miller said of Nowitzki. "We just try to make him take tough shots.

"He's one of the best I've seen."

Miller said the Heat locker room is a bit more on edge right now than it has been throughout the season. But this is what he, and other free agents like LeBron James and Chris Bosh, signed up for when they came to Miami, Miller said.

"Everyone knows the situation," Miller said. "This is fun, and this is why we all came here.

"We have to find a way to get three more wins, no matter what it takes. Three ... that's the number."

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