Finally, C.J. Miles can smile

Forward snaps out of season-long slump the last two games, including 30-point effort with seven 3-pointers Wednesday.

C.J. Miles didn’t hesitate. The Indiana Pacers’ forward shot with confidence. And shots, open or contested, were going through.

Such is the life of an NBA shooter, a 10th-year pro who understands but can’t always quickly overcome the streaky nature of his profession. Until the last two games, Miles was shooting just 27.5 percent (33-of-120), including 19.6 percent on 3-pointers (11-of-56).

The Pacers are staggering through a six-game losing streak, but Miles has found his stroke. In the last two games, he’s hit 16-of-33 shots (48.5 percent), and more importantly for a 3-point shooter, 11-of-21 (52.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

Miles came off the bench to score a game- and season-high 30 points, as many as the Pacers’ five starters combined, in Wednesday’s 103-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It's just the fourth time in a 543-game NBA career that he's scored 30 or more points.

His postgame smile was as much relief as satisfaction.

“I’ve just been working and working and just being patient,” he said. “The thing that I took away from myself the most during the slump was a little bit of my aggressiveness, not to take bad shots but to just look for my shot and do things to get yourself open.”

The 3-point shooter had not hit more than two in any game this season until Monday, when he sank four against Atlanta. Against the Clippers, Miles made 11-of-22 shots including 7-of-14 3-pointers.

Because of him, the Pacers had a chance in this game despite trailing by 20 points in the third quarter. The skid didn’t end, after Indiana closed to a 98-96 deficit with 2 minutes remaining, but at least Miles provided a long-awaited glimmer of hope in an otherwise ongoing series of discouraging outcomes.

“It’s good to see him start to be himself,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve said from the get-go that when a shooter is in a slump like that, there’s always a reversion to the mean. The numbers will even out and that played out tonight. So hopefully it continues.”

The Pacers signed him in the offseason to shoot. His career 42 shooting percentage included 35 percent on 3-pointers. They needed the scoring punch with so many injured players, including two-time All-Star Paul George. This was his opportunity to do more. He began the season as a starter.

Miles has made a career out of providing instant offense, usually as a reserve. Perhaps he pressed in the beginning, trying to do too much in a starting role. His shooting percentages plummeted. He missed all eight of his shots in a home loss to Milwaukee. That was the season’s fourth game, and the Pacers were in the midst of another six-game losing streak.

Vogel inevitably had Miles come off the bench. The shooter still missed much more than he made. He kept working at it in practice, searching for that rhythm, that confidence.

“It’s kind of like you get to a point where you’re shooting not to miss instead of to make, if that makes sense,” he said. “I had gotten to that point, where I was pretty much aiming at it instead of letting my instincts take over and shoot it the same way I shoot every day in practice.”

Perhaps the mental toll of such an extended shooting slump led to the migraine symptoms that forced him to sit out four games after he was benched. When Miles returned, he strained a calf muscle. That sidelined him for three more games.

Then, seemingly all of a sudden, he snapped out of it in a road loss at Phoenix on Dec. 2. Miles sank consecutive shots. He hit 6-of-9 attempts with one 3-pointer for 17 points.

“I’d say that Phoenix game probably gave me the most confidence,” he said, “coming into just starting to click.

“Before, I felt confident. I just hadn’t seen that many buckets go in. That Phoenix game was the first game I saw some consecutive buckets go in and had a nice rhythm to the game.”

But a blow to the eye cooled him off that night. The next two games reverted to the past, 2-of-8 both nights. But he sensed he was getting it back.

His breakthrough night began with a miss from 16 feet in the first quarter. Then he hit a 3-pointer. And missed one. The next 3-pointer went in, followed by another miss.

He kept shooting, even after a miss from 17 feet to start the second quarter. He hit a 3-pointer from 26 feet, then a 13-foot jumper. Back-to-back shots. Confidence rising.

A fast-break layup kept the momentum going. He scored 10 points in the quarter for 16 by halftime. The hot streak continued in the second half.

“He’s always got the green light,” Vogel said.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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