Dec 1, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts behind Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25) and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) in the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 99-98. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats 1st-Round Preview

 

After weeks of jostling with the Indiana Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Miami Heat were confirmed as the No. 2 seed at season’s end. The jury is out though on how much they cared about their ranking since Coach Erik Spoelstra decided to rest his stars and field a weakened team for the final three games of regular season, even though there was still something to play for.

He chose to sit LeBron James as well as Chris Bosh and gave the injury prone Dwyane Wade some limited court action with the business end of the season looming. That resulted in three losses in a row to the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers, while Indy won their closing games and pushed them back down to second place.

A cynic would argue that Spoelstra readily served up the No. 1 seed in hopes of avoiding a gruesome run to the NBA Finals. However, if that’s the case then it has seemingly backfired since the Brooklyn Nets, aka the team have Miami has failed to beat in four attempts (six if you count the preseason games), managed to creep into the Heat’s bracket and the two would meet in the second round, should both make it to that stage.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves as Miami still have to take care of business against the revitalized Charlotte Bobcats. Let’s look at how the two teams match up.

Starting Lineup

Point Guard – Mario Chalmers vs. Kemba Walker

Rio has grown into a solid point guard on a championship team over the years, but Walker gets the nod here due to the fact that he has had to carry the whole team and has done a great job in doing so.

The Connecticut product had a pretty good year in 2012-13 and this year hasn’t been any different. He is posting 17.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game which is impressive for a point man, especially one listed at 6’1” – though he’s probably shorter than that.

Nonetheless, don’t expect him to have an easy time out there because Chalmers is a very good defender and he will hound him for the whole series.

Shooting Guard –Dwayne Wade vs. Gerald Henderson

Wade is an All-Star, an All-NBA caliber player and is arguably the best at his position when healthy, therefore he gives Miami an advantage at the 2 spot.

He will have to keep an eye out for Henderson when on defense because the Bobcats’ first round pick from the 2009 NBA Draft is a capable scorer as, illustrated by his 14 points per game this season. Still, don’t expect him to outplay Wade.

Small Forward – LeBron James vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

61 points – enough said.

Power Forward – Udonis Haslem/Shane Battier vs. Josh McRoberts

With Coach Spo opting to go big recently, Udonis Haslem will likely feature as the bigman while Greg Oden battles his latest injury related setback. But with Josh McRoberts being a stretch 4, starting Shane Battier could be an option since he would be more comfortable when the Charlotte forward steps out to the perimeter.

Regardless of who starts, Miami has the advantage at the position but expect McBob to cause some problems with his versatility and athleticism.

Dec 1, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) reacts after a shot as Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson (25) looks on in the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 99-98. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Center – Chris Bosh vs. Al Jefferson

This is no doubt the hardest position to judge because on one hand you have an All-Star big man in Chris Bosh who is a nightmare on offense primarily due to his shooting range, which now extends to the 3-point line. Plus he’s also grown leaps and bounds defensively since coming to South Beach and is doing a superb job anchoring the Miami Heat unit as the last line of defense.

On the other hand you’ve got Al Jefferson, who was the biggest snub from the All-Star festivities this year. He has abused defenders in the post (aka the torture chamber) to average nearly 22 points a night in addition to hauling in 11 rebounds. Those are some tough numbers to argue against.

Plus, they don’t call him “Big Al” for nothing. With Jefferson listed at 289 pounds, Bosh gives up a whopping 54 pounds. Advantage Charlotte.

Bench Play

Both team’s benches haven’t exactly been stellar in 2013-14 as they rank 12th and 13th respectively in points per game with 30.2 and 30.1 ppg. Miami wins this one though based on the sheer number of quality players they have in their arsenal.

Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are budding young players, Gary Neal was an excellent bench player for the San Antonio Spurs and he has been a pretty good one this year too. However the Miami Heat have players such as Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley who could be vying for a starting spot elsewhere.

Heck, there isn’t even any room for James Jones to even crack the team despite his sniper-like accuracy from long range.

Jan 18, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford looks at Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra during the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Heat defeated the Bobcats 104-96 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches – Erik Spoelstra vs. Steve Clifford

With three straight NBA Finals appearances and back-to-back titles under his belt, Erik Spoelstra was always going to win this one without question, though the work Steve Clifford has done should not be overlooked.

The first year head coach has transformed a Charlotte Bobcats team that officially claimed the ignominious title as the worst team in NBA History in 2012 when they won just seven games of their 66 games(.106 winning percentage) in the lock-out shortened 2011-12 season. Fast forward to 2014 and he has led the ‘Cats to the second-ever playoff appearance in franchise history thanks to 43 regular-season wins. That is 15 more than the past two seasons combined.

Moreover, the awful defense we’ve become accustomed to is now a thing of the past as the team ranks fourth in points allowed with 97.1 per game and it was all Steve Clifford’s doing. The man is a miracle worker. He deserves a freakin’ medal or something!

Verdict

Slice and dice this one whichever way you wish, there’s no way the Miami Heat lose this series. No way.

The last time Charlotte managed to win even a single game against the Heat was March 9. 2010. That makes their record 0-16 versus the defending champions and the regular season series showed us why with Miami running out 4-0 winners.

The closest they got to stealing a game this season was Dec. 1, in a game where the ‘Cats were leading by five points with three minutes left to play. Then Chris Bosh decided enough was enough and scored 13 straight points, nine of which came from three 3-pointers in a row.

Furthermore, Miami has a tendency to quickly wrap things up in the first round and they do it mercilessly. In 2011, the Philadelphia 76ers were dealt with in five games and the games were decided by an average margin of 7.4 points. In 2012 Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks were also booted off in five games, losing by an average margin of 14 points. Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks were swept out with an average margin of 14.7 points per game.

Sure, the defense has improved immensely under Clifford, but the fact that Miami averaged 106 points per game and won two of the contests by at least 15 points, doesn’t bode too well for the Bobcats. The best they can hope for would be to steal a single game but the overall result will be an inevitable Heat win.

Miami Heat 4-1

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Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs Miami Heat

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