This bruised Charlotte fan-base has waited ten grueling years for the franchise to churn out a product like this one – 2009-10 was the first ever playoff team in the team’s history, but was a efficiency nightmare on the offensive end, and quite frankly not as trusty of a unit as the one we have in front of us now.
I’m hardly breaking news by stating that no one had expectations for this group coming into the season, and when Jordan, Higgins and Cho decided to throw the bank at Al Jefferson last summer, the Bobcats laughing stock wagon only appeared to be gaining steam. That was ultimately halted by a rookie head coach who has molded the 5th most efficient defense in the entire NBA and a 29-year old Jefferson who is having the best season of his career. Charlotte has made many of their critics eat crow already, but the most daunting challenge lies less than 24 hours away in Miami, FL.
A meeting with the defending champions Miami Heat is not what I would have drawn up for you if you would have told me that the Bobcats would win 8 of their last 9 games to close the regular season, but by hook, or by crook, that’s what we have. There’s, of course, Lebron, Wade and Bosh – also known as the ‘Big Three’ – matching up with these guys is going to be difficult, but it is for everyone. Charlotte will have some advantages and match-ups that they can feed off of – let’s dive into the key match-ups, see just how everyone is going to be used and try to predict what the ultimate outcome will be.
Kemba Walker / Mario Chalmers – The eyeball test would suggest that this one would favor Kemba, but the numbers suggests otherwise. With Chalmers on-the-court in 4 games this season Kemba shot 33.3% from the floor and just 11% from behind-the-arc. With Chalmers off-the-court Kemba was a totally different player – 41% from the floor + 40% from deep. On the same token, Kemba had 17 dimes with Chalmers guarding him and only 7 without Mario on the floor. The on vs. off-the-floor difference in minutes is not enough to chalk up any of these numbers to being flawed.
Ultimately, this matchup does favor Kemba. Chalmers is known to play uninspired defense in stretches and will gamble for steals. Speaking of gambling for steals, Kemba loves to as well. Walker will have to choose wisely whether he goes under or over ball-screens when guarding Chalmers – he can make you pay when you go under will his shooting ability. Personally, I’d make him a driver.
Walker has to be able to attack the paint off of pick-and-rolls and leave Mario in the dust. If Kemba is able to turn the corner in PnR’s and force the hedge defender to commit, it will open up space for Jefferson to start knocking down the pick-and-pop jumper – a shot I think is key to stretch the Miami defense + make them think twice about how aggressive they want to be at guarding Kemba on PnR’s.
Gerald Henderson / Dwayne Wade – Henderson did not fair very well when Wade was on-the-court and guarding him this season. Hendo shot 35.3% + turned the ball over 3 times in 42 total minutes. He shot 44.4% with Wade off -the-court + got to the foul line 5 more times.
Those are some Hendo quick hitter numbers that may not mean all that much in this series. Why? We have no clue how healthy Wade is coming into this series with a hamstring issue.
Now, let’s look at some numbers that I promise will make you smile – in 42 total minutes, Wade shot 10% from the floor and committed 6 turnovers when Hendo was guarding him. Hendo is definitely one of those guys that picks-and-chooses when he’s going to give solid effort on the defensive end – I think it’s safe to say that Wade brings out the best in Hendo defensively. From watching these two go against each other, trust me, they aren’t exchanging pleasantries in the same group iMessage chat away from basketball. To add fuel to the fire with this matchup, I have to believe that Clifford and the Bobcats are going to try and attack Wade with Hendo on the offensive end of the floor with his unknown health. He’s far from the most efficient offensive player on the planet, but Clifford is going to have to trust Hendo in this series – he’ll badly need him to wear out Wade and break into Miami’s bench to give Charlotte some depth matchup advantages.
If Wade is healthy, there’s no question that he has the upper-hand here, but that’s the unknown – this is likely going to be the biggest matchup that no one is talking heading into tomorrow afternoon.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Lebron James – MKG essentially didn’t play if Lebron wasn’t on the floor in 4 games this season. Needless to say, it didn’t go great. We all remember Lebron’s 61-point outburst against MKG this season, but just wrap your mind around these numbers. With MKG guarding James in 4 games this season, the King shot 67.5% from the floor, 70% from 3 land, grabbed 12 rebounds, had 12 assists and just 4 turnovers. So, dominance basically.
None of James success is predicated on a lack of effort or will from MKG, but there likely is an intimidation factor at work here – MKG must be able to get past that. If he needs to use his fouls early-on to keep James from getting whatever he wants then so be it – MKG likely won’t be on the floor much at the end of the game anyways because of his liability as an offensive player.
Lebron will be able to play as far off of MKG as he would like, defensively, because MKG can’t shoot. At all. This presents a real problem for the Bobcats and their offensive efficiency as Lebron will likely be coming to double Jefferson when MKG is on the floor. One way to negate this is to have MKG being the guy to enter the ball to Jefferson as much as possible – MKG post-entry + a rim cut will force Lebron to at least account for his man who can be a problem on off-the-ball cuts.
We know who has the upper hand in this matchup, but I’m excited to see if MKG can simply get Lebron off to some rocky starts. History tells us know, but this is the post-season now. Yikes, that may mean something even worse for MKG. Say a prayer, everybody.
Josh McRoberts / Chris Bosh – If Miami goes with Haslem in the starting lineup, which everyone is expecting them to, in order to guard Jefferson then it’s very likely that McBob will be matched up on Bosh. There are a few reason for this – 1) Bosh can stretch the floor much more than Haslem can so McBob will have to inherit the role of being is Bosh’ grill on jump shots due to his superior mobility over Jefferson. 2) McBob is solid on PnR coverage, so he’ll be able to show/hedge hard on the ball-handler while also being able to recover to Bosh on pick-and-pops. Many have predicted that Bosh will be the X-factor for the Heat in this series and I wouldn’t disagree with that, but McBob is going to be physical with him + make Bosh work for everything. As key as Bosh is for Miami, McBob is equally key for the Bobcats because of the fact that he plays with so much energy – when things do get chippy in this series, I can almost guarantee that McBob will be right in the middle of it.
McBob may be put in some situations where he has to guard Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis in this series – similar concept to guarding Bosh in that they both will space the floor, but most notably in the corner. Very little, to zero, PnR coverage for McBob when matching up with either one of these guys.
Pulling Bosh away from the rim will be key and McBob will be able to do that as the connector to the offense. He’ll need to find a way to knock down a few 3′s per game in order to confuse Bosh as to how much he must contest McBob when he catches the ball at the top-of-the-key.
Al Jefferson / Udonis Haslem – It sounds like the Heat are going to start with Haslem against Jefferson, but the two didn’t log many minutes on the floor together in 4 match-ups this season – just a 26 minute sample size to go off of where Jefferson shot 37.5% – meh, throw that out the window. To small of a sample to mean much, truly. Haslem is going to surrender height & weight to Big Al, but he plays very strong and physical defensively, which is likely why Miami is going to start with him in this role.
Jefferson will likely guard Haslem, and not Bosh, on the defensive end so he doesn’t have to chase all the way out to the 3-point line and can anchor the paint as much as possible. Haslem will be involved in some PnR, but again, he doesn’t terrify you on the pick-and-pop. He can knock down the mid-range jumper, but not as efficiently as Bosh. Where Haslem does present a problem is in his habit to float to the short-corner off of Wade/James dribble-penetrations – Haslem likes this short-corner shot and can make defenses pay when they think they’ve got Wade/James corralled at the rim.
We’ve all heard about Jefferson’s success against the Heat this season – 3 games: 25.3 PGG on 57.5% from the floor. Essentially, this means that Miami doesn’t have anyone to truly matchup with Al. They’ll come at him by committee – fronting with Haslem + Bosh, with heavy backside help ready to double if a post catch is made. Spolestra will likely elect to only single cover Jefferson when Greg Oden is on the floor for Miami.
There’s no getting around it, Al Jefferson is absolutely key for any level of success that Charlotte hopes to have in this series. If he keeps pace with what he’s done to the Heat in 3 games so far this season then it’s very realistic that the Bobcats can push this series to 6 games.
Key Reserve Roles – For the Bobcats, it starts with Gary Neal. He’s been solid post all-star break from behind-the-arc at 40% – making 3′s and stretching the floor is going to be key to open things up some for Jefferson down low and the bulk of this duty will fall into the arms (literally) of Neal. If he plays well, then the Bobcats will be right in the mix during the 4th quarter of every game.
Chris Douglas-Roberts has also emerged as a key reserve for the Bobcats in the second half of the year. First of all, he could be asked to guard Lebron late in games if Clifford elects to go with CDR and an offensive mindset. Secondly, he just needs to bring exactly what he did in the last 10 games to end the regular season – 27 MPG, 9.6 PPG, 45.6 FG%, 35.3 3FG%.
As fast as Miami likes to play, especially off of opponents turnovers, Charlotte will have to seek easy baskets in the open-floor as well. Cody Zeller is the most dynamic big that the Bobcats have in terms of speed and ability to finish. Also, Zeller is great at keeping balls alive off of the offensive glass – not something that Clifford asks his team to sell out on, but Zeller is one of the best at keeping possessions alive for Charlotte.
Remember reading earlier that the Bobcats will have to guard Lebron by committee? Well, a member of that committee will be Anthony Tolliver. He will likely have to guard him in spurts during this series. In part due to some foul trouble that could present itself for Charlotte and also because there will be a point-in-time when Clifford is seeking outside shooting, which Tolliver can provide. I think this guy will play a sneaky important role in this series.
Bismack Biyombo will have one job while on the floor. Protect the rim and rebound.
Prediction – Miami wins the series 4-2.
– All stats from compiled in this article are per NBA.com/Stats