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MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat have played in four straight NBA Finals and won back-to-back titles in 2012-13, but the excitement and anticipation of reaching another championship series departed along with LeBron James.

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The Heat’s quest to establish a post-James identity begins Wednesday night when they open the season against the Washington Wizards.

“I think we have some proving to do,” forward Chris Bosh said.

Bosh and Dwyane Wade – along with Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers – remain from the ‘Big 3’ years that saw Miami go 224-88 and win 59 postseason games. James, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis and James Jones have all moved on.

Wade is once again the face of the franchise as he enters his 12th season, but after logging over 32,000 career minutes and dealing with recurring knee issues, he is no longer the future. That title goes to Bosh, who spurned a max-contract offer from Houston.

Bosh’s averages in both points and rebounds have declined each season in Miami, but as the feature player for the first time with the Heat, he hopes to again reach the 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds he averaged during his final season with Toronto in 2009-10.

“I can’t lie to you: I’m excited. I’m excited for the challenge,” Bosh said upon signing a five-year, $118 deal. “I want to step up to the challenge. I feel this is a chance to prove to myself and others that I can still do this.”

Bosh will be joined by newcomers Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Luol Deng, all of whom are expected to see significant playing time. However, McRoberts may miss opening night as he recovers from offseason toe surgery.

Their first challenge comes against a young Washington club that reached the second round of the playoffs and still has plenty to prove in the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards, anchored by John Wall and Bradley Beal, reached the second round for the first time since 2005. Wall and Beal led the team with 19.3 points and 17.1 points per game, respectively, and Wall finished second in the NBA with an average of 8.8 assists.

“I think we’re definitely the best backcourt in the league,” Beal said. “At the same time, we’ve got to prove it.”

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Beal, however, will be absent from Washington’s backcourt for the first month of the season after he broke his left wrist Oct. 10. Glen Rice Jr. and Martell Webster are also injured, leaving Garrett Temple as Beal’s likely replacement at shooting guard.

The Wizards bolstered their offense by signing veteran Paul Pierce. The 10-time All-Star averaged 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds with Brooklyn last season, and he will take the forward role from Trevor Ariza (14.4 ppg), who signed with Houston.

“My body feels good, my mind is in the right place,” Pierce said. “I still have the hunger, desire to get up every day and want to be in the gym.”

Nene and Marcin Gortat also return for the Wizards, who finished with the league’s ninth-best defense last season. As with most things in Washington, though, that ranking could rise with the improvement of Wall, who led the NBA with 295 turnovers last season.

“I’m just going to be aggressive and play the right way,” Wall told the Wizards’ official site. “If somebody’s open, I’m still trusting those guys to make open shots. If you lose the game with guys taking open shots and missing them, I’m cool with that.

“But if you try to go in the game and do too much and lose the game because you forced shots and turn the ball over, that’s different.”

Wall turned the ball over 18 times in four games against Miami last season, but he also dished 39 assists to help Washington split the season series 2-2. Neither James nor Bosh played in the most recent meeting – a 114-93 home win for the Wizards on April 14.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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