Well, this series brings together two polar opposites.
On the one hand we have the Miami Heat going for their three-peat, striving to get as close to perfection as possible before they move on to the second round. On the other hand we have the “just happy to be here” Bobcats, who have never won a playoff series in their existence and aren’t about to start now.
The Bobcats are listed at 250-1 to win the championship, the same odds as the sad sack Atlanta Hawks.
We all know that Charlotte will be lucky to win even a single game, don’t we? After all, the Heat swept the season series 4-0, and the Heat have guys on the end of their bench who won’t even play outside of garbage time who have more playoff experience than every single member of the Bobcats aside from Gary Neal, who does not start, and Brendan Haywood, who does not play.
This should be a walkover — even more so than the Indiana-Atlanta series that features the Pacers stumbling into the postseason on an offensive drought. Can we nickname this series “Wake me when it’s over?”
1. Will anybody be paying attention?
This is a pertinent point, because the Heat will be the lead-in game on several occasions to a Western Conference playoff game that will be much more compelling. But will folks on the East Coast be able to stay awake through these snoozefests? With the NBA’s television contracts soon to be open for bidding, the ratings that the playoffs produce will have an impact on the number of dollars that are spent by the likes of ESPN, Turner Sports and perhaps Fox Sports. Adam Silver has no interest in seeing the low ratings from the early games in this series carry over into the later games.
2. Is there any way the Bobcats can win even a single game?
The smark aleck answer is no. But this is no time to be smark alecky. For one thing, Al Jefferson gives every team fits, no matter what their pedigree. That’s the reason why he got a fifth-place vote on my MVP ballot.
The second thing is this: The Heat lost 28 games this season, which is a dozen more games than they lost last season, and dropped five of their last six. That doesn’t exactly qualify as a head of steam. Among the teams that defeated them this season were the 76ers (twice), the Jazz, the Celtics (twice), the Knicks, the Kings and the Pistons. Also, Indiana defeated them three times, and Brooklyn went 4-0, becoming the first team to sweep a four-game series against LeBron James since he entered the NBA.
So the Heat are not exactly a well-oiled machine. If they take this opponent too lightly, things really could get interesting.
3. Will Dwyane Wade play? Or is this such a cupcake series that the Heat will continue to rest him?
I could see the Heat resting him if they went ahead 3-0, but those 28 games of rest that Wade had during the regular season were part of the preparation for this very moment. And no matter how lightly regarded the Bobcats are, they did manage to win 43 games, including eight of their final 10.
Wade’s 54 games were his fewest in an 82-game season since 2007-08, and he barely shook the rust off after missing 11 of 12 games before playing in Miami’s final three contests. Then again, he is Dwyane Wade, and his game is more refined than it has ever been. No, he doesn’t get to the foul line anywhere near as much as he used to, and no, he doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers.
But Wade led all NBA guards in shooting percentage at .545, which is a ridiculous number for a backcourt player and the highest of Wade’s career. His 19.0 points per game average snapped a nine-year streak of averaging at least 20 points.
4. Who will defend LeBron James?
That’s a great question, and one that Steve Clifford might have a ton of trouble answering. There are only a handful of players around the league who have the length and strength to defend James with any semblance of success, and none of those guys plays for Charlotte. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the unfortunate one who will begin the series guarding James.
5. Do the Heat have any weaknesses?
Well, when you are 30th in a 30-team league in rebounding, people are going to look at that as a weakness. What will matter in this series is whether the Bobcats can control the boards — especially on the offensive end — enough to keep the games close into the fourth quarters.
Jefferson averages 10.8 rebounds per game, including 2.1 on the offensive end, whereas James’ 6.9 boards is the highest average on the Heat.
One might also postulate that overconfidence is a problem for the Heat. But that is a quantity that can only be discovered when the games begin. Everyone knows that the Heat were on cruise control throughout the regular season, never more so than in April. So if they are truly able to flip a switch and be their best, they win this series with ease. But if the Bobcats come in loosey goosey and steal one of the first two games, we’ll begin to see whether the switch flipping is as nimble and easy as the Heat believe it to be.
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