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Miller's time has come fast

The month-by-month picture of Mike Miller as a NBA player continues to develop for the Magic. So much so that some say the next frame could include a shot of Miller hoisting the Rookie of the Year honors.

Miller has made a quantum leap from timid, slow-reacting rookie in November to aggressive, savvy veteran as the season heads into its final month, including today's home game against Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Magic coach Doc Rivers has been begging Miller for this. He sees Miller let fly with three-pointers (he's 15th in the NBA in threes) and jumpers off screens for three quarters, then go silent in the fourth. Miller has deferred to veterans Tracy McGrady, Darrell Armstrong and Pat Garrity when the game is on the line.

No one quibbled with that the first two or three months while Miller got his bearings, but now they want as much from him in the fourth quarter as they're getting the first three.

And they've been getting plenty.

Since Jan.

31, the former Florida star has been in double figures 20 of 22 games and averaged 15.6 points. He has shot 46 percent from the field and 43 on threes.

Even better from Rivers' standpoint, he's not giving up more than he contributes.

Miller couldn't guard a parked car his first month, but has learned to keep his man in front of him and contest jumpers without fouling. Most nights, he at least gets a draw against his opponent. Many nights, he wins the stat battle.

He has closed the gap between himself and the only other two viable Rookie of the Year candidates, New Jersey's Kenyon Martin and Marc Jackson of Golden State. It is a virtual dead heat going into the final month.

He will be helped by the return of McGrady, whose two-game suspension for fighting ends today.

"I'm punishing Tracy McGrady," Rivers said, laughing. "I'm playing him 48 minutes" today. Orlando defeated Vancouver and Cleveland with McGrady out.