Mar 17, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25) shoots the ball during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Time Warner Cable Arena. Atlanta defeated Charlotte 97-83. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte Bobcats: Is a First-Round Exit Automatic? Not Against One Team.

It feels very strange, but we can start thinking about the Charlotte Bobcats and their first-round NBA playoff matchups. At 33-36, the Bobcats are slotted No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, which is a game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 spot and three games behind the Washington Wizards for the No. 6 spot.

So, if the playoffs started today….gulp….that would mean a matchup against the Miami Heat. You know, that LeBron James guy who hung 61 on them earlier in the season. In four matchups, James is averaging 37.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists, with a ridiculous shooting line of .629/.563/.833.

The Bobcats are 0-4 against Miami this season and are getting outscored 106-95.5 on average. Would a first-round exit be automatic against the Heat? If LeBron is healthy, it certainly appears so.

However, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Al Jefferson and company would have a different matchup if they were to slide to No. 8 or ascend to No. 6. Unfortunately, neither a matchup against the Indiana Pacers nor the Chicago Bulls would be much of a bargain.

Charlotte is 0-3 against the Bulls and 1-2 against the Pacers. There is one scenario that could work, though. If the Toronto Raptors can continue their rise and earn the No. 3 seed (with the Cats catching the Wizards), then we’d have a very realistic possibility that the Bobcats could see the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since their inception.

The Bobcats and their No. 4 defense (97.2 points allowed) are a perfect 3-0 against the Raptors this season. They won at home on November 6, 2013 by a score of 92-90. They then won in Toronto in overtime on December 18, 2013 with the final score of 104-102. Lastly, they won 100-95 on January 20, 2014 in Charlotte.

Jonas Valanciunas and the Raptors don’t have an answer for Jefferson. Al only played in two of the matchups, but he averaged 23.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in those games. The Bobcats have been able to hound Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan into bad shots, holding them to 19-for-45 (42.2 percent) in their last matchup.

Another major difference between the teams has been the Bobcats ability to get to the free-throw line. In their last game, the Bobcats went 27-for-33, with the Raptors going just 7-for-10. It wasn’t just a one-off performance, either.

In the Bobcats win in overtime in Toronto, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 17-for-40 (42.5 percent) shooting. The free-throw disparity was still there as well, with the Bobcats getting to the line 14 more times (making eight more) than the Raptors.

For further proof, the first game of the year between the teams (which included Rudy Gay on the Raptors), featured 8-for-23 shooting from Lowry and DeRozan and the Bobcats going to the line 15 more times than the Raptors.

Some teams just matchup better than others. The Bobcats and their ability to get to the line against the Raptors has caused them fits. Ramon Sessions and Gerald Henderson have been instrumental and the team’s defense against Lowry and DeRozan has made all of the difference.

Is a first-round exit automatic for the Bobcats? Not if they find their way into the No. 6 seed with the Raptors hanging tough at No. 3. If anything, that matchup could turn out to be automatic for the Cats to move on to round two.


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