1. What was your initial reaction to hearing the Bobcats would be playing the Heat in round one?
Ben: Initially? Part dread, part acceptance. Being a Bobcats fan often means resignation to knowing that things aren't going to go as planned as you would hope. Charlotte had a chance to avoid this matchup but it came as little surprise to see it happen.
Tucker: After the Bobcats' loss to the Celtics last week, I was expecting this already, but when they beat the Bulls, and when the Celtics had pulled pretty close to the Wizards not very long afterward...well, all I can say is that hope is a useless endeavor. I was more optimistic about their matchup the last time they made the playoffs (my goodness, Tyson Chandler was on that team), and it resulted in a sweet at the hands of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Chris: Not a positive one. I've held true to my belief that the Bobcats could challenge anybody in the East not named Indiana or Miami because of their excellent play since February. Against the Heat, they'll be lucky to get one win.
Derek: In a word, "WELP."
David: Of course they are.
2. Is there any hope in this world?
Ben: I mean, you just hope you can steal one game on the road and that puts the Heat on their heels and get some sort of momentum but ... yeah. This might not be pretty. On the plus side, the Bobcats are already here. They've got to play the two-time defending champs. The chips are stacked against them and their only option is to give Miami all they can handle. Charlotte's got a lot of fight in them but ... yeah.
Tucker: See my previous answer. Time is a flat circle.
Chris: None. Buy a Flander's family bomb shelter and pray.
Derek: Hope is stupid. I'll be happy if the Bobcats can keep the series competitive and even steal a game. My expectations for this series aren't for the Bobcats to win it, but to continue to play hard night in and night out regardless of the cirmcumstances. Really, I expect nothing less from this team.
David: No not really. There isn't a matchup that would present a more daunting task. The Heat still have that championship pedigree and attitude, and they've been running through the league going on three years now. Plus the Bobcats got them (mostly their announcers) all fired up with the infamous bandwagon fan video this year. That thing has been erased from existence like the McFly siblings, you can't find it.
3. What do you think is the key to the series?
Ben: It starts with defense. Charlotte minimizes turnovers better than any team in the league, which will be a great benefit in keeping Miami from getting into transition. The Bobcats need to keep the pace slow and force Miami into a primarily halfcourt offense. Clifford has preached disciplined transition defense and the Cats need to hold to that because LeBron on a fast break, even one not started by a turnover, isn't easily stopped by one or two defenders. Plus we haven't even seen Miami with Dwyane Wade much recently so with him back in the lineup, the Heat are even more tough to keep out of the paint.
Tucker: One route I could take is to say that the key is health because it'll probably take an injury to LeBron James in order for the Bobcats to have a fighting chance, but I'll say the guard play. Al Jefferson is going to be Al Jefferson; we know that. What we don't know is if Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, and Chris Douglas-Roberts are gonna hit their jump shots. In order to win, that's going to need to happen.
Chris: Defense, perfect execution, and putting a log jam into Chris Bosh. If the Bobcats are going to have any chance of beating the Heat it's going to require the best defense they have played all season and SWAT team level execution for everything else. Putting a stop to Chris Bosh is another thing all together. LeBron is going to get his no matter what and the Heat can win whether Wade is having a good series or not. Getting Bosh out of his rhythm to where he's late on rotations, setting bad screens, and messing up the dirty work plays that he's so good at will give the Bobcats a chance.
Derek: The Bobcats will need to continue to do things like limiting turnovers to give themselves a shot. Of course crashing the glass and not letting the Heat control the tempo by going into Flying Death Machine mode.
David: Beer? Hiyoooo. No seriously, a lot of beer. The Bobcats have been very good at closing games out this season and they'll need to avoid getting down big against the Heat to have any chance. So overall they'll need to bring the energy on defense Steve Clifford wants to see every night. It would also be beneficial if the Bobcats can score. Also, don't turn the ball over too much and let the Heat get out on the break. Oh, and keep them from going crazy from three. Maybe keep LeBron under 50? And try to guard Chris Bosh in late game situations...while also keeping an eye on Ray Allen in the corner.
4. Who comes up biggest for the Bobcats in the series?
Ben: I think it's got to be Al Jefferson. Miami can afford to throw double teams at him, but Charlotte can counteract that to a degree by flashing cutters from the elbow. Chris Bosh is a tough defender but Jefferson's strength on the block is hard for him to defend. The Bobcats will post Jefferson up, re-post if needed and try to work him on screen and rolls -- whatever different looks Clifford can give the Heat with Jefferson, he should and will try.
Tucker: If I could say that there were two keys to this series, I'd say the other is bench play, where the Bobcats could make up some points while LeBron, Dwyade Wade, and Chris Bosh aren't on the floor. For that reason, I think Gary Neal comes up biggest, as he's more than capable of putting up efficient points off the bench. He'll likely be used in late-game situations too, and I think he'll have the opportunity for clutch shots.
Chris: The easy answer here is Al Jefferson because of the monster game he had against the Heat when LeBron had his career night. So for the sake of being unique I'll say Kemba Walker. Walker is going to need to have a great series and I think he's going to step up and deliver. If the Bobcats can get even one gigantic game out of him it would be enough to get a win or two but I think we're going to see some consistently good play from him throughout the series.
Derek: Miami will be looking to shut him down, but I'm going to say Al Jefferson. His scoring, rebounding and ability to pass out of double teams will be huge and would expect him to continue to do that.
David: If there's a chance for it to be interesting Al Jefferson has to be the guy he's been all season. In LeBron's career game, Jefferson put up 38 points and 19 rebounds. Now, it's sounds crazy but I think Jefferson is more likely to repeat his performance from that game than is James. It should be safe to say his series averages will be more in line with that, and that's pretty amazing. Because let's face it, if LeBron averages 60 this series it REALLY hurts the Bobcats' chances.
5. Who will have the toughest series for Charlotte?
Ben: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is probably the top selection here. He's got the toughest defensive assignment trying to contain the best player in the universe. But that compounds further when we realize he's also the most active piece of the Bobcats' defense. His perimeter rotations are key to the Bobcats' ability to pack the paint to defend the rim so well. If the Bobcats have to throw a second defender at LeBron to help him, I worry it's going to open up the floodgates for Miami's offense.
But offensively, I worry that Kemba Walker will try to force tough things against Miami's defense. Walker quietly had an awful end to the season. He was fine as a passer and racked up solid assist numbers, but his post-All-Star break numbers as a scorer are particularly worrisome: 35.7 percent field goal shooting. He'll have to penetrate well and make good decisions, which is much easier said than done against Miami.
Tucker: The Heat are a division rival in addition to having a league-wide target on their backs, and the Bobcats are a well-coached team that has mostly-consistent players, so I don't think anyone will struggle too much beyond expectations. I want to say Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, because guarding LeBron James is not exactly what one would call an easy assignment, but his 61-point game against the Bobcats in the middle of the season was an aberration. I'll say Cody Zeller, because he's young, and he might struggle against a veteran team that's been the best in the league two years running.
Chris: Poor Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gets the task of guarding LeBron and rotating over when the defense is stretched thin by the Heat's perimeter attack style. He's going to try but it's gonna be rough on him. Also, Like Ridnour is going to be terrible against the Heat's defense.
Derek: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist if for not other reason than having to guard LeBron James in the series.
David: Mean question. And it kills everyone who has a heart to say this but I think it's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. For one, there is serious potential for MKG to see a season low in minutes per game during this season. If the Heat get up big, the Bobcats will need scoring on the floor and you know how that goes. Also there's the whole LeBron matchup. As good a defender as MKG is, the numbers are not pretty for him against King James this year. So his potential for a tough series is pretty high.
6. Predict who wins and in how many games.
Ben: It absolutely hurts my heart to say this is how the Bobcats' existence comes to an end, but I think the Heat will sweep. There's absolutely a chance the Bobcats take a game, but I wouldn't bet on it. Miami has so much elite talent and so much playoff experience. They're not without weaknesses but I don't think the Bobcats are the team that can exploit them to outduel them in a seven game series, or even take a couple games.
Tucker: These teams played four times in the regular season, and although the Heat swept the season series, two of the games were close, and it was a little bit of bad luck as to why the Bobcats lost them both. And the Heat might still be coasting a little bit until they have to play an opponent that will truly challenge them. I think the Bobcats might finally win a playoff game this year, though. I'll say Bucks in si.......Heat win in five games.
Chris: The Heat should win in 5 games
Derek: I love you, Bobcats, but I'm going to say Heat in five.
David: You're just a mean person. It's really hard to objectively look at this series and not pick the Heat in four or five. Even though, Charlotte has really made a huge leap this year, and the games have been pretty close, when the Heat are fully engaged and ready to go they can put the hammer down. I do think this team and this playoff trip has a totally different feel than the Bobcats' first trip. Game three has to be circled as the best chance for Charlotte to get a win as the energy on a Saturday night in Time Warner Cable Arena should be very good. But my pick is the Heat in five. Also, I hate predictions.