By David Dwork

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After a long summer of waiting, the Miami Heat’s latest season tips off Wednesday night in Orlando.

The Heat enter the season as a bit of a wild card in what many consider a wide-open Eastern Conference, now that LeBron James has taken his talents out west.

Perhaps the biggest story surrounding Miami as they begin the season is that this will be Dwyane Wade’s last.

Wade announced in September that this season, his 16th in the NBA, will be the final one of his Hall of Fame career.

The 36-year-old has been with Miami during all three of the team’s NBA Championships and each of its five NBA Finals appearances.

Other potentially big news involving the Heat has to do with a player who currently plays elsewhere.

In the weeks leading up to the season, the Heat have been named in numerous rumors linking them to All-Star Jimmy Butler, who has asked for a trade out of Minnesota.

While that fire has died down a bit over the past few days, Miami is believed to be the favorite to land Butler if a trade is ever completed.

WONDERING WHICH WHITESIDE?

Last season was a disappointing one for Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who struggled to stay in the game during crunch time amid reports of a rift between he and head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Both the star center and Spoelstra have been saying all the right things since training camp opened in September, leading some to believe that they may finally be on the same page.

Whiteside will be playing in the third year of his four-year, $98 million max deal that was signed in the summer of 2016.

Needless to say, the 29-year-old has yet to live up to the expectations that come with a max contract.

GAME NOTES

  • This is the third consecutive year that Miami and Orlando have faced each other to open the season.
  • Whiteside’s next double-double will make him just the third player in franchise history to record 150 with the Heat.
  • Miami lists Wayne Ellington (ankle) and Justise Winslow (hamstring) as doubtful, while James Johnson (hernia surgery) and Dion Waiters (ankle surgery) are out.
  • Orlando has not made the playoffs in six straight seasons, the longest such streak in the Eastern Conference.
  • Last season Miami ranked fourth in points allowed (102.9) and seventh in defensive rating (107.3), an area they’ll look to excel once again.
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