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Dave Hyde: Heat, Panthers again raising thoughts of two shots at a South Florida title

It’s curious how defining stretches run on parallel tracks with the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers. Tuesday night marked the latest twin stretch that raised the periscope of possibility of another double-dip this spring.

First, the Panthers rose to the top of the Eastern Conference in winning their 12th of 14 games, a not-that-close 3-2 win against Buffalo in Sunrise.

Then, in Portland, the Heat won their ninth in 11 games to move into fifth place in the Eastern Conference, despite using their record-tying 31st lineup of the season.

So here we are again.

Maybe it’s too early to squint into April and May with them. Maybe it’s still time to enjoy the small picture of a night’s good games rather than the big picture of where this can all go.

Probably it doesn’t reach the rarity of last spring, when each team went from the lowest of playoff seeds to losing their championship series. In fact, it can’t repeat that. Neither team looks like it will tip-toe into the playoffs this time.

The Panthers are behind only Edmonton on the Las Vegas odds to win the Stanley Cup. They’re not just winning games this regular season but in a manner that translates to playoff hockey as their second-ranked defense shows.

The Heat are different. They’re still defining this team. Coach Erik Spoelstra is always such a passionate believer in his players that when they lost seven straight games in January, it was fascinating to watch him point them to a collective stand that changed their season.

Despite last spring and these recent stretches of success, neither team carries the kind of outside pressure that can be burden. Everyone in South Florida is still adjusting to the idea that Panthers are one of the best-run teams in hockey since general manager Bill Zito arrived, considering they were one of the worst-run teams for a quarter-century.

Everyone looks at the Heat roster and has the same idea as when they made the NBA Finals two of the past four years: Can they do it again with this cast?

Name another team built around a player that three teams gave up on in Jimmy Butler and mid-level draft picks in Bam Adebayo (14th) and Tyler Herro (13th).

This Not-Too-Big Three has played together in only 19 games this season, too, with a moderate plus-2.1 points when on the court. This final stretch of regular season will include a chemistry class, with Herro adjusting his game with Butler holding the ball more. Herro, remember, wasn’t part of the NBA Finals run due to injury last spring.

“It lessens a bit the load of having the ball in my hands, which everyone knows I love it in my hands,’’ Herro said before leaving on this current road trip. “The dribbling playmaker, things like that. So it’s an adjustment. At the same time, it’s about winning and helping the rest of the guys.”

“If we want to compete for the toughest prize you have to have guys to maximize each other,’’ Spoelstra said. “It does require a sacrifice — and I use that term loosely. Ultimately, when you’re competing for the title, you’re not really sacrificing. You’re attacking something.”

The Heat return Thursday to Denver, the dead-end of their party last spring. Maybe they have memories to get beyond. The Panthers point to a Finals rematch against Vegas in January as a defining win of their season.

Winning titles is never easy. It’s been a decade since the last championship parade in South Florida, a 2014 run with the Heat’s Big Three. This constitutes the longest drought between titles involving our four core pro teams and the University of Miami football.

No one’s saying this is the year. You know Boston has a tight grip on the basketball’s Eastern Conference. You know hockey is full of so many low-seed upsets it’s hard to view them as playoff surprises.

No market has won a hockey and basketball title in the same season, either. No need to be greedy that way, either. One would work. These February runs by the Panthers and Heat let you squint ahead and hope on that idea.