Five reasons why Heat are hottest

MIAMI

   The best way to put to rest any talk (OK, any Shaq talk) about a potentially tainted championship? Follow it up with the longest winning streak in team history, in what could turn into the best regular season in the franchise's 25 seasons.

   And do it largely with the same championship core.

   While it remains all about championship results, it can be argued that sustained excellence through the season's first 82 games might be the ultimate test, if only because of the drudgery.

   What we've seen from the Heat over the past month comes with no asterisk, just with enough exclamation points to properly punctuate the accomplishment.

   To that end, we offer a high-five of reasons why maximum potential has emerged.

   Wade time: A subtle change in Erik Spoelstra's rotation has established a niche that has rekindled Dwyane Wade's explosive possibilities.

  Previously, when LeBron James sat after the first quarter, Chris Bosh was featured with four supporting players at the start of the second period, what had come to be known as "Bosh Time."

   But amid the Heat's upgraded play, those minutes have now been given to Wade, to probe the defense as the lone member of the Big Three during that exclusive stretch. The result has been the freedom for at least one brief burst to be the pre-Big Three Wade, momentum that has carried to the balance of games.

   Bosh's temperament: Put yourself alongside the top-rebounding small forward in the league and one of the NBA's best-rebounding shooting guards and the numbers aren't always going to be there, especially the way James and  Wade have been filling the box score lately.

   Yet while many have questioned Bosh's statistics, including his scoring totals, he has never allowed numbers to become an issue.

    Just as Wade has accepted his place as LeBron's sidekick, so, too, has Bosh accepted -- without saying as much, of course -- the role of third wheel.

    With some, it might come off as a concession. With Bosh, and his unique disposition, it comes across as a player comfortable in his own skin.

    Battier as Bowen: While the Heat got some of the best of Bruce Bowen during the swingman's tenure in South Florida, they never got the championship-level Bowen the San Antonio Spurs received.

    Yet in Shane Battier, the Heat essentially have realized the second-coming of Bowen, a versatile defender who can stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting, while being smart enough to also know when to get out of the way.

   Just as it often appeared Bowen would be overmatched, Battier simply finds a way to contribute, consistently.

   Fraternal order: Yes, camaraderie can be overstated. Many a lottery team has had a tight-knit locker room.

    But in this locker room, minutes never get in the way of the support system. Rashard Lewis stands as Example A. No sooner was Bosh approached recently with Lil' Wayne questions then Lewis, seated alongside, cut off the interview. It was similar to how Lewis cut down former Orlando Magic teammate Dwight Howard  this past week, when Howard criticized those who played alongside him in Orlando.

   He's a good teammate. There isn't a bad one in this locker room.

   Birdman cometh: The Heat may have had Cherokee Parks for a brief stint, but never anyone as colorful as Chris Andersen. And unlike Ronny Turiaf, Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire or even Joel Anthony, there actually is the chance that a quality pass will lead to an efficient finish.

    The Heat generally have had to reduce their power rotation in the playoffs out of necessity. Unlike Dampier or Turiaf, Birdman looks like his playoff minutes just might equal his regular-season minutes.

IN THE LANE

    CREDIT DUE: Among the surprises of last Sunday's Heat victory over the New York Knicks was Knicks coach Mike Woodson electing to close with wayward-shooting J.R. Smith instead of Amare Stoudemire. To his credit, Woodson admitted he may have erred with the approach. "Bad coaching," Woodson later told ESPN radio. "Blame that on the coach." Woodson said he felt somewhat hamstrung by a minute limitation that since has been eased, as Stoudemire returns from early-season knee issues. "He should've been in at the end of that game, although they were small. Tyson or Amare would've had to guard a perimeter player . . . so I went with the matchup versus trying to make them match up to us. It would've been for us an advantage offensively. I learned from it." The teams have one more regular-season matchup remaining, April 2 at AmericanAirlines Arena, but it now will be without Stoudemire, who is sidelined six weeks with a new knee issue.

    CREDIT, TOO: Of course, it didn't help that Smith shot 5 of 18 in that loss, including 3 of 14 on 3-pointers. That, too, left Woodson with some second thought, namely that Smith should have changed his ways. "When jump shots are not falling, you've got to go make yourself get knocked down while you're taking it to the hole and let the free-throw line be your friend," Woodson said. "There's nothing wrong with that." So what happens down one in the final seconds Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder? Smith pulls up and is off with a 17-foot jumper.

    HEAT FACES, PLACES I: Cut by the Heat at this season's guarantee deadline and then offered consecutive 10-day contracts, Josh Harrellson has resurfaced in the Puerto Rico league, a league that offers a springtime option for those in NBA holding patterns. The 3-point-shooting center has signed with Brujos de Guayama Wizards, arriving this past week. After a surprising rookie contribution last season with the New York Knicks, Harrellson was dealt to and then cut by the Houston Rockets in the offseason before his brief Heat tenure, failing to land an offer elsewhere in the league.

    HEAT FACES, PLACES II: Back in potential NBA circulation is Heat 2012 championship-team center/spectator Eddy Curry, who spent this past season in China, where he averaged 23 points on .611 shooting and 10.1 rebounds in 29.6 minutes for Zhejiang Chouzhou Bank, who were led in scoring by Quincy Douby. Curry, who did not receive a return invitation from the Heat, went to training camp with the San Antonio Spurs and then started the season with the Dallas Mavericks. Because Curry, 30, was not on an NBA roster on or after March 1, he is eligible for a playoff roster.

     SECOND THOUGHT: While the NBA, correctly, downgraded  the Flagrant 2 called on J.J. Barea on Monday night against the Heat, the Minnesota Timberwolves point guard said the therefore-nullified ejection perhaps wasn't too much of an impediment in what turned into a 97-81 Heat victory. "The way I was shooting it, I was like, 'Get me out of here,' '' he told reporters with a laugh, 1 of 11 in his 22 minutes before his ejection with 8:09 to play. "They did me a favor.''

     ADVANTAGE HEAT: There will be no Thunder follow up to the Heat's "Harlem Shake" video. Why? "That was the funniest stuff I've seen in a while," LeBron James offseason training partner Kevin Durant told the Oklahoman. "Once they put it out, it's kind of tough to follow that act right there."

 NUMBER

    16. Consecutive seasons Heat guard Ray Allen has now made at least 100 3-pointers, with No. 100 coming Wednesday, breaking the NBA record he had shared with Reggie Miller of 15 consecutive such seasons.

    iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat.

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