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The Heat's backup big man conundrum; UM notes (football recruiting, hoops); Panthers

A six-pack of Heat, Canes and Panthers:

Pat Riley gave this Heat coaching staff six natural power rotation players, all with quality resumes, albeit a brief one in Hassan Whiteside’s case.

But Erik Spoelstra has had little use for half of those six, even while another of those bigs, Josh McRoberts, misses game after game with a bruised knee.

On Wednesday against the Knicks, Spoelstra didn’t even bother using a third natural big man, opting to use four natural wing players off the bench instead of Amare Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen.

This is largely the byproduct of the evolution of today’s NBA game, with more and more teams playing small, and the Heat often using Luol Deng or even Justise Winslow at power forward.

But it does raise the question: Would one of those six roster spots (or bottom three, more specifically) be put to better use on another wing player?

Stoudemire, Haslem and Andersen have handled their limited playing time like professionals, but Stoudemire --- without any anger in his tone --- made clear this week that he’s hoping for a regular role and that he’s completely healthy.

After playing in only three of the Heat’s first 27 games, Stoudemire appeared in six of the next seven, with Spoelstra saying the Heat would benefit from his offense off the bench. But he shot 4 for 14 in his past six appearances and didn’t play at all in two of the past three games.

He’s still trying to work off “offensive rust and work on my timing and getting used to playing this speed again. Hopefully, [the playing time] stays consistent and I can start getting some consistent play.”

Stoudemire, curiously, doesn’t seem to be getting many calls from referees. “The more they see me out there playing, the more they see my competitive spirit, I’m sure I'm going to start getting calls,” he said.

Haslem said he’s enjoying his role “mentoring these guys. But you always want to play. If I start losing that, I might as well retire. I would have loved to have been in that Eastern Conference battle with Indiana, but I also understand what coach is doing, that we have a lot of guys we're molding, and there's a lot of ways I can help this team besides being on the court.”

He said the change in how the game is played has clearly impacted the roles of Heat big men.

“When I first got to the league, you had a 6-10 power forward and 7 foot center,” Haslem said. “Now power forwards are 185 pounds and playing on the wing and shooting threes and bringing the ball up the floor. I can handle that. The game has shifted to guys like myself who can guard multiple positions.”

Andersen has played the fewest minutes of the three --- just 33 --- but hasn’t complained. Everyone, including the Andersen camp, is aware that Miami would love to move his $5 million salary to substantially lessen its luxury tax payment. But the Heat hasn’t found a taker.

Raw offensive and defensive statistics suggest none of those three has been at his best in limited playing time, though that might partly be the result of irregular minutes.

Haslem, in 134 minutes over 16 games, is shooting 39 percent (11 for 28),and the player he’s guarding is shooting 51.2 percent (22 of 43), well above the 43.7 percent that those players generally shoot.

Stoudemire, in 87 minutes over eight games, is shooting 9 for 21, with 27 points and 22 rebounds, and the player he’s guarding is shooting 47.1 percent, slightly above what those players shoot overall.

Andersen, in his six short appearances, is shooting 3 for 9, with 10 points, 8 rebounds and two blocks. The players he guards have shot 47.1 percent, compared with their usual shooting percentage of 43.5 percent.

As perspective, Whiteside (44.7), Chris Bosh (43) and McRoberts (37.5) have all allowed lower shooting percentages.

Also, the Heat has been outscored by 20 with Andersen in the game, by 11 with Stoudemire and by four with Haslem on the floor.

“We consider the practices our games,” Haslem said of the three veteran bigs. “Before games, we go upstairs and play two on two to keep ourselves in shape. We understand it's a young man's game. Where I can still be helpful is prepare these guys in practice, and when coach puts me in, try to take advantage of my minutes here and there and set an example.”

As for McRoberts, he hasn’t played since Dec. 9 and has now missed 14 consecutive games with a bruised right knee, an injury the Heat said he sustained well before this extended absence. He is walking without any limp or limitations but remains out indefinitely, with the Heat declining to specify a timetable for his return.

### How good is the Panthers’ defense and goaltending? Florida is 17-0-1 when scoring at least three goals in a game. So when they get to three goals, they are literally unbeatable in non-OT games… By the way, the Panthers have now tied two other teams for longest NHL winning streak ever (11) by a team that didn’t make the playoffs the previous season. The NHL record for most consecutive wins period is 17, held by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993.

### Per Elias, Roberto Luongo, at 36, is the third-oldest NHL goaltender to post a winning streak of at least nine games in the last 40 years. Tim Thomas was 37 years old when he posted 10 straight wins for the Bruins in November/December 2011 and Dominik Hasek had turned 37 by the end of his 10-game winning streak for the Red Wings in February/March 2002.

### UM receiver Stacy Coley, who has been mulling whether to turn pro, cannot be happy about Mark Richt’s decision to dump receivers coach Kevin Beard. Coley liked Beard and was a big fan of his work. Beard did some good things, including having former Canes receiver greats address his group, but it’s common for a coach to want his own people. And this UM staff won’t have a single holdover from Al Golden’s staff.

The NFL Draft Advisory Board told Coley that he wasn’t projected to go in the first two rounds. And a UM official indicated the school sought additional information from the league (and board) and the feedback was that Coley would be a likely third-day pick (so not a first-, second-, or third-rounder).

###  Four star Flanagan receiver Dredrick Snelson, a Minnesota oral commitment, told Canesport.com that there is a “medium” chance he will pick UM. Snelson said UM didn’t recruit him initially, but that Jack Allison told him that Mark Richt plans to call him… Three-star Coral Gables running back Amir Rasul, who previously de-committed from UM and committed to FSU, told Canesport that UM is recruiting him again and he will visit the Canes. He calls himself a strong FSU commit but won’t rule out UM....

UM hoops is the 14th-best shooting team in the country, at 49.9 percent from the field. Center Tonye Jekiri is at 59 percent from the field.

### One other quick thing: Fox and MLB.com report that Dan Jennings, fired by the Marlins as manager and GM, is joining the Washington Nationals' front office.... Please see the last post for the weekly media column, if you missed it....  Twitter: @flasportsbuzz