SALT LAKE CITY — Only two months ago, C.J. Miles was feeling the heat — from himself and others. His game hadn't bounced back like he'd hoped from preseason thumb surgery, and the happy-go-lucky southpaw felt awful.
His shot was as off as the pressure was on. The smiles you see on his face now during the playoffs were forced, if they were there.
A 1-for-10 shooting night against Charlotte on Feb. 24 didn't help.
That night, in response to criticism by fans, the struggling Miles acknowledged that he'd been chucking up clunkers and hadn't been playing up to his potential. He claimed to be "mentally goin' crazy" and even showed rare remorse on his Twitter account: "I apologize for my play to all Tha fans. I am better and will be better."
Give the young man props. Not only did he smash a stereotype that millionaire athletes don't feel accountable to fans, but he also kept his word.
Miles, as he promised to his social-media followers, is much better now.
"You look at C.J. Miles and the growth in his game over the last couple of months," Jazz guard Kyle Korver said. "It's been amazing."
Funny, because that's the same description Miles, whose efficiency has skyrocketed since his apology, used to describe the biggest role he's ever had in the playoffs.
Miles has already scored twice as many points and played four more minutes this postseason against the Denver Nuggets in two games than he did in five first-round games last year against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Miles' game has seemingly come, well, kilometers since he hit bottom in February — and especially since he filled in for the injured Andrei Kirilenko as the Jazz's starting small forward a month ago. He shot 49.6 percent from the field post-apology to end the regular season compared to a 42.8-percent clip before his humble tweet.
Better yet for the Jazz, the 23-year-old has been a solid contributor for the first time in the playoffs. Giving his team a much-needed extra offensive weapon, Miles has averaged 31 minutes, 17 points — up from his 9.9 points per game season average — and four assists while helping Utah snatch homecourt advantage from Denver.
And he's smiling a lot.
"It's amazing," Miles said. "It's fun just being able to play in the games that mean so much, being able to contribute and being able to help. It's just an experience."
Quite the turnabout from his midseason blues, when he wrote that he was going through probably the hardest year of his life from a player's perspective.
Deron Williams called it "great" that his buddy and teammate of five years is finally getting a shot to participate in extended postseason action.
"He had never really played in the playoffs," Williams said, "so I think he's just enjoying the chance to get playing time ... (and) stepping up to the challenge."
Miles only played two minutes with one point during the Jazz's run to the Western Conference Finals as a rookie in 2007, and he then got a whopping 26 minutes his second year. Miles came into the 2009 playoffs with a dislocated finger and, after missing five of the last six regular-season games, lost his starting job and only logged 58 minutes and 17 points against the Lakers.
It's been a much different story this postseason, of course.
Kirilenko is out with a strained calf, and the Jazz traded another wing, Ronnie Brewer, during the season to open up more playing time for Miles, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews.
Miles' offense has been a pleasant addition this past week. He came out firing in the first quarter of Game 1, when he scored 13 of his 17 points. In Monday's surprising 114-111 Jazz win, Miles poured in eight of his 17 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Two of his late buckets were layups — something Jazz coach Jerry Sloan loves to see from a player who can drive him batty because of his long-ball love affair.
"C.J.'s got a lot of talent," Sloan said. "He has had to learn that you've got to do other things rather than shoot the ball, and he's done that."
Kirilenko is hardly shocked, not to mention quite happy, that the 2005 second-round pick out of Skyline High in Dallas is beginning to blossom after an up-and-down career.
"I've seen C.J. on the practice (court) and I know what he's capable to do," Kirilenko said. "So it's not surprising me that he can play on that level. It's always been kind of a question how he (can) convert it from practice to the game, and finally he's started doing it."
And thoroughly enjoying it.
"Fun" has been Miles' mantra — or at least seemingly the word that has come out of his mouth the most since last week.
"I'm having a ball," Miles said.
He's even getting a kick out of trying to defend and annoy Denver superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Miles admitted the Jazz tried to be more physical with Melo in Game 2, when he only made 9 of 25 shots after hitting 18 on the same amount of attempts in his 42-point Game 1.
"I got lucky a little bit," Miles said of Anthony's 32-point game Monday. "He missed some shots and just made him take some tougher shots."
The way Miles is playing on both ends of the court — easing the pain of losing Kirilenko — is definitely helping him earn his coach's trust and praise.17 comments on this story
Sloan likes that Miles isn't relying on his outside shot as much as he used to, though he still can be a 3-point gunslinger with a sweet-looking shot. The Hall of Fame coach has noticed that Miles is doing a better job of knowing when to burst to the basket — something Williams has been encouraging wings to do all year on pick-and-roll plays.
"Give him credit for recognizing that," Sloan said. "Sometimes that's why we talk about young players — it takes a while for that to come about. It's not an overnight thing. It takes a lot of work."
Apparently a timely apology doesn't hurt, either.
Nuggets at Jazz
Friday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN2/FSN Utah