- Associated Press - Sunday, December 5, 2010

MIAMI (AP) - Sure, the players in the Miami Heat locker room all knew each other before the season began.

They just didn’t know much about one another.

To hear LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh tell it, one of the many reasons the Heat got off to a slower-than-expected start this season is that many interpersonal bonds in the locker room were still being formed. Dealing with that was a primary theme of the now-infamous team meeting that happened in Dallas after a loss on Nov. 27.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Miami is unbeaten since.

“When you learn about someone personally, it’s easier to protect them out on the court,” James said. “It’s easier to fight for them out on the court. We’ve been able to play games and win games and us three, personally, we’re figuring it out.”

The next week figures to help that ongoing bonding process.

The Heat play in Milwaukee on Monday night, the start of a four-game swing that represents Miami’s longest road trip of the season so far. Miami opened the year with road contests on consecutive nights at Boston and Philadelphia, and since then have gone on six different one-game trips.

Miami also visits Utah, Golden State and Sacramento on this trip. The Heat hope it’ll be a springboard to bigger things in the second quarter of the season, now that James, Wade and Bosh _ the ballyhooed signings of free agency _ say they’re starting to click in ways they envisioned when the trio of stars came together.

“We’ve all played together in spot times, All-Star games, Olympics, and it’s not the same as it is here in Miami,” Wade said. “We’re all good friends, and when you’re good friends and you’re new, sometimes you don’t want to say something to step on someone’s toes. And that meeting kind of let us know to be friends and be real with each other.”

An 89-77 win over Atlanta on Saturday night at home was Miami’s fourth-straight win, matching a season-high, and pushed the Heat (13-8) five games over .500 for the first time. All the things percolating a week ago _ fallout over James colliding with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during a time-out in Dallas, speculation about Spoelstra’s job security, reports that the Heat were laden with internal strife _ seem forgotten now.

Indeed, what a difference a week has made.

“We didn’t cave in at the beginning of the week,” Spoelstra said. “We just collectively decided ‘How do we make this better?’ Now we’re going to embark on our first extended road trip, where it will just be us and there will be adversity out there. And hopefully, I feel we’re a different team than we were a week ago.”

Entering Sunday, only three teams _ Dallas (9), Denver (6) and Boston (6) _ had longer current winning streaks than Miami.

“I don’t think the world was coming to an end,” Bosh said. “We knew that we lost games that we were capable of winning. We were right there. And I think we were standing in our own way. Just to talk about it, it was needed. We needed to talk and kind of feel each other out and do the things off the court that really nobody sees in order to bring this team closer together and be more of a unit.”

The process has been one for Miami since the year began. Even before, really.

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