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Heat, Magic ready to open season

Sports Xchange
17 Oct 2018, 12:07 GMT+10

Recent weeks saw the Miami Heat reportedly become engaged in attempts to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic are starting over again with first-year coach Steve Clifford as they try to end a team-record streak of six straight losing seasons since the blockbuster trade of Dwight Howard following the 2011-12 season.

For the third straight season, the intrastate rivals will get together for the season opener Wednesday night when Miami visits Orlando.

The Heat return mostly intact after winning 44 games and losing in the first-round to Philadelphia. While they did not get Butler, they did bring back a notable name in Dwyane Wade, who ended last season by appearing in 21 games with the Heat.

"No butterflies," Wade said to reporters after Tuesday's practice.

Wade returned to the Heat for his 16th and final season of a Hall of Fame career that began as part of the 2003 draft class and led to three championships for the Heat in 2006, 2012 and 2013. He will be returning to a team that was led by Goran Dragic's 17.3 points per game.

Dragic was among nine players to average double figures last season when the Heat ranked 23rd by averaging 103.4 points per game and 22nd with an offensive rating of 106.8.

It was defensively where the Heat shined, placing fourth in points allowed (102.9) and seventh in defensive rating (107.3). Josh Richardson was among the reasons for the effective defense and he was rumored to be in any trade for Butler.

Besides averaging a career-best 12.9 points per game, Richardson led the Heat with 121 steals and his 75 blocked shots were second on the team behind Hassan Whiteside. He was the lone player in the NBA to finish with at least 121 steals and 75 blocks.

Richardson and Dragic will not be joined by James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and possibly Wayne Ellington and Justice Winslow, who are listed as doubtful.

Ellington is dealing with a sore left ankle that kept him out of preseason games, Winslow is dealing with hamstring tightness that became worse heading into the season opener.

Johnson will sit as he recovers from offseason sports hernia surgery. Waiters has not played since January due to left ankle surgery and is not expected to return until December.

Even with injuries, the Heat are not concerned about continuity based on past experiences.

"Our guys have logged a lot of game minutes together," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It just feels different. Even when we've had a couple of guys out, we've been able to move much quicker with this group than we have certainly the last couple of years and that's what happens with real continuity when you have guys that have played seasons together."

Orlando has not won more than 35 games since its last winning season and Clifford is its fifth coach since 2012, when he was an assistant under former coach Stan Van Gundy.

Last season, Orlando began with eight wins in 12 games, but injuries derailed a promising start and the Magic finished 25-57 in Frank Vogel's second season.

Most of the same roster is back and Orlando is hoping for fewer injuries from its trio of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, who were named tri-captains on Tuesday. Last season, they missed a combined 78 games.

"It means a lot," Vucevic told reporters. "It's a responsibility that I am proud to have."

Fournier averaged a team-best 17.8 points per game and Orlando was 5-20 when he sat out. Gordon averaged 17.6 points and Orlando was 6-18 without him. Vucevic averaged 16.5 points while adding an increased 3-point game and Orlando was 8-17 when he did not play.

All three spent the last few days prepping for the Heat, who claimed a one-point preseason win over Orlando last week in Miami.

"We're ready and it's going to be a tough home stretch here," Gordon said. "These first 10 games are going to be very telling of how much momentum we can build, how far we've come and how much further we need to go. But we're ready for this."

Orlando is hoping to supplement its trio with production from its last two first-round picks Jonathan Isaac and rookie Mohamed Bamba. Isaac was limited to 27 games last season with ankle issues while Bamba appeared in three preseason games while also dealing with a wrist contusion.

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