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Half an hour later the game begins, and Miami starts slowly. Then Allen comes in. The effect is immediate. Not only do the Heat players look for him, but the defense tilts toward his side. As Battier, a 43.0% three-point shooter this season, explains, it's Allen's reputation that is so important. "That's probably his biggest strength," Battier says. "Defenders cheat a little more, because it's Ray Allen sitting out there. Those two feet that the defense might cheat, and try to close out to Ray, is the difference between LeBron and D Wade getting to the rack or not." (Indeed, even among Spacers there is a hierarchy; some teams use a rating system of green, yellow and red for deciding whether to leave them or not.)
On this night the Bucks don't cheat enough, and Allen knocks down a pair of threes, then three more. Midway through the second half, in what turns into an easy 104--91 Heat win, he breaks Reggie Miller's playoff record for career three-pointers, and he goes on to finish 5 of 8 from behind the arc. In his postgame press conference, he gives a shout-out to his peers. "I look down the bench and I see Rashard Lewis ... Mike Miller ... James Jones," says Allen. "We've all made sacrifices."
On this night the shout-out is welcome, as those three never made it into the game. To the outsider it can seem a peculiar strategic roster move—couldn't the Heat benefit more from another activity guy on the inside than one more shooter?—but who knows what is to come. "They haven't had to use Miller and Jones and Lewis yet," says the scout. "But I guarantee you, through 16 wins those guys will come in and get some use and make a difference. Even if it's only for one series, or one game. That's why they're there."
Why they're there. After the game, Miller showers and then pulls on a long-sleeved gray T-shirt, dark pants and hightops. Nearby sit James and Wade—the reasons Miller is so valuable to Miami. He'd hoped to play, but he understands. "Some nights you're needed, some nights you're not," he says.
Then Miller heads out into the darkness, to the waiting bus. In the days and weeks to come, as the Heat sweep the Bucks and take on the Bulls, he'll prepare for every game the same way. He'll go through the same visualization process, the same warmup routine and the same shooting drills. He'll sit on the bench and gently tap his feet, trying to stay loose. He knows his opportunity might come again, or it might go to someone else. He may fail, or he may succeed. The only thing he can control is whether he makes or misses the shot.
All he can do is be ready.