There was something surprising in the Bobcats' loss in Game 1 of the first-round series with the Heat. It wasn't the result, as that game made the fifth time out of five meetings this season where the Heat came away with the victory, but rather that the Bobcats were able to play with the Heat for as long as they were. And, as you might have heard, the Heat are pretty good at basketball.
Game 1 inspired a sense of optimism within me, actually. Only as much optimism as an eleven-point playoff loss can cause, to be fair, but that's optimism nonetheless. Like most of their double-digit losses this season, the Bobcats were undone by one bad quarter rather than a continuous string of inadequate play, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a closer score in Game 2. Here's how the Bobcats can improve upon in tonight's game as they try to steal an away game from Miami.
- Staying out of foul trouble: The Bobcats excelled at this in the regular season, being one of the very best teams in the league at preventing their opponent from getting extra shots at the free throw line. This was not the case in Game One, as the Heat took 26 free throws on 17 Charlotte fouls. Not only did it give Miami more opportunities to score extra points, it limited the playing time of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was doing an admirable job defensively on LeBron James, but played fewer than 15 minutes.
- Winning the turnover battle: While the Bobcats are not a team to induce too many turnovers, they committed fewer turnovers than any other team in the league, a part of the reason why their offense is competent despite below-average shooting numbers and a minimal amount of offensive rebounds. On Sunday, they turned the ball over thirteen times, slightly above their typical amount, but more shocking is that six of those giveaways came from the normally sure-handed Kemba Walker. Now, while the Heat are one of the best teams at taking the ball away from their opponent, they also give it away as often as any playoff team this season. In Game 1, they turned the ball over only seven times, well below their typical rate. I'm not sure if this gap will normalize, or come closer, or explode, with twenty Bobcats turnovers. But what I do know is that this could change. So hopefully the Bobcats will be able to get more in this area tonight.
- Starting backcourt: I think we've gotten to the point where we don't expect Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to be terribly efficient shooters, but they can do better than a combined 9-for-24 shooting line. In fact, they probably will; I can't imagine a scenario where Henderson scores only six points on nine field goal attempts for a second straight game. On the other hand, Kemba Walker has struggled throughout his career with forcing shots when he isn't satisfied with how his teammates were shooting, and the injury to Al Jefferson only exacerbated that issue in Sunday's game. If Jefferson has his mobility back, I think Walker's shooting will be a little more effective. If Jefferson is still hobbling a bit and unsure of his touch and quickness with post moves, Walker will need to find a better way to get quality shots for either himself or his teammates, as it didn't quite work on Sunday.
The good news is that all three of these things can be improved in Game Two, and the Bobcats could play that into a closer game in the fourth quarter. They'll still need to get the same help they got on Sunday -- great play from Josh McRoberts, good defense by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Chris Bosh having a poor shooting night -- or something equivalent to that, but there are areas that they have the ability to improve in hopes of having a closer game.