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NBA Basketball

Heat visit Magic for second straight opener

Last season, the Miami Heat began what became a disappointing campaign with a 12-point road victory against the Orlando Magic.

It was one of 11 wins during a difficult first half that ultimately cost Miami a playoff berth.

Meanwhile, numerous reasons caused Orlando to miss the playoffs for a team-record fifth consecutive season.

The Heat hope to get off to a better start while the Magic hope to improve on their poor defensive showings Wednesday night when the teams get together in their season opener in Orlando.

The Heat missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons despite finishing 41-41. They wound up losing a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bulls for eighth, as they were unable to overcome their 11-30 start.

"I think we're ready," Miami point guard Goran Dragic said after a recent practice. "I feel like we know what we have to do to not be in the same position as last year, even not to get too loose. Eleven guys are back, but we know it's not like suddenly we're going to have chemistry like we finished the season.

"That's why we're here working hard, to build that chemistry again. At least this time we know what the path, what the formula is to get there. We're taking that formula with us, and hopefully Wednesday we go out there and do it."

After scoring 76 points in the paint in the season-opening visit to Orlando, the Heat experienced three losing streaks of at least five games before starting the turnaround with 13 straight victories.

Another thing that proved costly to Miami were three losses to Orlando, including a 110-99 setback on March 3.

Most of Miami's roster from last season returns, and the vow is not to let the club's playoff fate come down to a tiebreaker situation again.

"We won 41 games last season, so why not go for 50?" Miami center Hassan Whiteside told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "That's my target."

Orlando's three wins in the season series were among 29 it totaled during a fifth straight losing season. Since 2011, the Magic have not won more than 37 games. Last year's team was plagued by significant defensive deficiencies.

Orlando ranked 22nd in points allowed (107.6), 25th in defensive field-goal percentage (46.7 percent), 24th in defensive 3-point percentage (36.8) as well as 22nd in defensive rating (110.5).

While preseason numbers do not necessarily indicate how the regular season will go, the Magic are at least hopeful of an improvement after playing decently on defense during the exhibition season. They ranked ninth in defensive rating, 10th in points allowed and sixth in field-goal percentage allowed.

"We know that we've got to see a big improvement on that end of the floor if we're going to do what we want to do this year," said Frank Vogel, who is the club's fourth coach since Orlando last owned a top-10 defense in 2011-12.

The defensive troubles resulted in eight losses by at least 30 points and three games where opponents scored at least 70 points inside.

"We know everything is going to boil down to us getting stops," Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. "We've just got to continue to work and make big jumps. We're going to make mistakes, and we know that's going to happen, but we've got to make sure we don't repeat mistakes and make the kind of mistakes that will beat us."

Beside curiosity about preseason defense translating into the six-month marathon, the Magic are interested to see how a full season of Aaron Gordon at power forward will unfold and how a complete season of swingman Terrence Ross will go. Gordon moved from the small forward spot after the All-Star break following the trade of Serge Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors for Ross.

Gordon averaged 16.4 points and shot 50.3 percent after the move, and Ross averaged a career-best 12.5 points in 24 games following the trade. Ross was limited in the preseason by a hamstring injury but is expected to play Wednesday.

Despite winning three of four from Miami last season, Orlando struggled to contain Whiteside. The center averaged 19.3 points, 16.5 rebounds and shot 60 percent against the Magic.

Updated October 18, 2017

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