The Charlotte Bobcats did their best to avoid the Miami Heat by beating the Chicago Bulls on the last day of the regular season, but shifting playoff spots resulting in the Bobcats facing off against the 2-time defending champs in the first round.
The Heat and Bobcats play Game 1 on Sunday at 3:30. Obviously, us here at Hot Hot Hoops expect the Heat to advance and fairly easily, as LeBron James hasn't lost to the Bobcats since he joined the Heat, including a career-high 61 point masked performance earlier this season.
So as the Heat and Bobcats prepare for the series, let's take a look at the individual match-ups by position and see who has an advantage and what to watch for.
We've got a very interesting match-up at point guard. Kemba Walker's first playoff experience will come against a 2x NBA champ in the first and second units. Walker is Charlotte's second leading scoring averaging 17.7 PPG, getting 6.4 APG, and grabbing 4.2 RPG. He is an all around point guard, and as you should know, capable of taking the last shot. Walker averages a team high in minutes at 35.8. Walker is a quick point guard, the type that Chalmers will struggle to keep in front of him, and realistically, the type that Norris Cole is better suited to guard. Luke Ridnour is a quick guard, but shouldn't be much trouble for Miami.
If Miami wants to slow the Bobcats, one of the keys will be Kemba. But, Mario Chalmers is having one of his better seasons. Not statistically different than the others, but his showing up in the absence of Dwyane Wade this season has been huge. Norris Cole's recent struggles cause some concern, but it's nothing to warrant problems against the Bobcats.
A clear dynamic exists between the starters at the 2-spot. Gerald Henderson represents a relatively young, athletic and high flying guard against the older, slower (at times) and methodical Dwyane Wade. Henderson averages 14 PPG and 4 RPG for the season. He is a defender and an open court nightmare. But, he isn't Dwyane Wade. Wade said after the game on Wednesday that he feels better going into this post-season than he did last year. And if Wade is healthy, Miami is much more dangerous. Henderson is a small enough defender that Wade should feel the advantage to take him to the post. Dwyane just needs to be careful to not give easy buckets to Henderson.
The back-ups represent very similar features. Gary Neal returns after a stellar performance in the NBA Finals last year with the Spurs. I mid-season acquisition, Neal is averaging double figures for the Bobcats. He is a similar player to Ray Allen, and there isn't much to distinguish a clear advantage off the bench, unless Neal shoots at an unmatched clip.
MKG has not lived up the expectations of a #2 overall pick would be expected to perform at, but he is a solid contributor to this team. But let's be honest here, no one is matching up against LeBron. There's a reason James knocked in 61 points on this team, as well as what Carmelo did to them (sorry Paul George). That doesn't mean that MKG isn't a decent defender, it just means that LeBron is really good. And no matter how we sugarcoat MKG's stats and his performance, no one is going to contain LeBron on the Bobcats.
Shane Battier is simply a role player, and in a first round series he should see enough action to hopefully find a playoff rhythm. CDR is a similar player, one who is capable of hitting the outside shot, shooting 38% from downtown this year. Both these players will have a limited impact on the outcome.
Josh McRoberts is the stretch four that won't make Chris Bosh have to be punished in the post. This is huge, because often can be what hurts Bosh's offense and the Heat overall. McRoberts is a floater, and although will score inside, won't be a post up option for the Bobcats. McRoberts averaged 8.5 PPG and 4.8 RPG, while Bosh is at 16.2 PPG and 6.6 RPG. Bosh should, and I emphasize "should" have the advantage here.
The back-ups represent a little bit of "not sure how much they will play and contribute." Lewis hasn't been a playoff contributor in the past, but has been in the rotation since the end of March. Zeller will be a hard-nosed rookie looking to make his stamp, but this shouldn't represent any problems for Miami.
This is Charlotte's biggest advantage. Al Jefferson has been a handful for the Heat, and he will be featured by the Bobcats. He is a big that can shoot midrange, and loves to pound it down low in the post. Jefferson is a team-high 21.8 PPG and 10.8 RPG. Udonis Haslem has had success against big men, but Jefferson in a series, will be a lot of work. Chris Andersen will be called into helping slow down Jefferson, but I'm not sure how much success he will have either. Miami's best chance will either to get Jefferson in foul trouble, or keep him from touching the ball in the paint and hoping he doesn't get a flow on his shot.
Biyombo doesn't offer much more than energy scare to the Heat. He isn't a deep offense threat. This matchup at center is really going to be the difference in how long this series goes. If Miami can contain Jefferson in Charlotte, the Heat have a much better chance of securing their ticket to the second round quickly.
There's your position by position preview. As you can see Miami has a 3-2 advantge, but that doesn't mean it's close.
Chime in and tell us what you think.