East champion Heat open season at Orlando
The Miami Heat, just seven weeks after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, will visit the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.
From championship series to the start of the new year — it’s the shortest turnaround in league history, after the pandemic-induced interruption to the 2019-2020 season.
“Historically, this is different,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra acknowledged. “But if you consistently go to the Finals — like Golden State, like all of LeBron (James’) teams, like our old teams — those were all quick turnarounds, too. That’s the price of chasing something great.”
Because of the quick turnaround, Heat star Jimmy Butler, 31, will be on an unspecified minutes limits to try to save his legs. He averaged 43 minutes per game during the NBA Finals.
But there will be no such limitations to some of Miami’s younger standouts, including 23-year-old center Bam Adebayo, fresh off a five-year, $200-million contract extension, signed last month.
Key additions for the Heat this season are Avery Bradley, who left the Lakers in free agency but is questionable for Wednesday due to a hamstring injury; and Precious Achiuwa, Miami’s first-round pick — a 6-9 forward from Memphis.
Meanwhile, Orlando, which finished 33-40 last season, didn’t make any big moves in free agency.
Instead, the Magic is building from within, recently extending the contracts of two former lottery picks: Jonathan Isaac (four years, $80 million) and Markelle Fultz (three years, $50 million).
“They both have bright futures and mean a lot to our organization,” Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said.
Orlando also re-signed Gary Clark to a modest two-year, $4.1 million contract.
In addition, the Magic are excited about rookie point guard Cole Anthony, who scored 19 points in Orlando’s final preseason game. The Magic won by one over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, including a game-winning Anthony floater with 14 seconds left.
Anthony, the 15th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, is being used as a reserve behind Fultz.
With Isaac out following ACL surgery in August, Orlando’s other stars are Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. Vucevic led Orlando in scoring (19.6) and rebounding (10.9) last season. Fournier was second in scoring (18.5), and Gordon contributed 14.4 points and 3.7 assists.
Terrence Ross, a key member of Orlando’s bench, is likely out due to a toe injury. Ross was third on the team in scoring last season, and his 14.7 average ranked first among the bench crew.
For Miami, Butler led the team in scoring (19.9) and assists (6.0). Adebayo contributed 15.9 points, a team-high 10.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Goran Dragic, Miami’s top reserve, re-signed with the Heat after finishing second on the team in scoring (16.2) and assists (5.1).
Fans should also watch for Heat second-year guard Tyler Herro, who won’t turn 21 until next month. Herro made the NBA’s All-Rookie second team after averaging 13.5 points.
Butler, in a video conference call with reporters Monday said he’s confident in the Heat’s chances this season.
“I’m hoping we learned that we belong,” Butler said. “We can hang with the best of them.”