The Bobcats are back in Miami for game two against the Heat at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
In a disheartening 99-88 loss Sunday afternoon, the Heat capitalized on Al Jefferson's limited effectiveness and the match-up advantages LeBron James had with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sitting on the bench for much of the second half.
Jefferson's availability is unknown for tonight's game, and head coach Steve Clifford stated at Tuesday's practice that while Jefferson wants to play, he won't unless he's able to contribute consistently on both ends of the floor. That's a lot to ask of a player who's been wearing a walking boot since straining his plantar fascia in game one. Even if the Bobcats decide to play Jefferson, how effective he can be is truly up in the air.
If Jefferson isn't available, the Bobcats' offense will change dramatically. Instead of operating out of the post, they will rely on a pick-and-roll offense that utilizes Kemba Walker's ability to create offense off the dribble. Walker's proven himself as an efficient shot creator if he's given a solid pick, but if Jefferson is unable to play, the Heat will focus on preventing dribble penetration with hard hedges and traps any time a screen is called for. We saw some of this in game one, and the Bobcats' offense was usually reset in those situations.
However, expecting Walker to carry the team is unfair, and other players will need to step up as well. In game one, Gerald Henderson was quiet and exposed by an aged Dwyane Wade. Wade scored 23 points on an efficient 10-16 shooting, and while he's still a very good player, Henderson needs to contain him.
Henderson was also tasked with guarding LeBron James on multiple possessions in game one as a result of Kidd-Gilchrist's foul trouble. No one can consistently prevent James from putting up gaudy numbers, but Kidd-Gilchrist is the only player the Bobcats have that can guard him straight up with little to no help. In just under 15 minutes, MKG held James to 1-5 shooting and sported a team-high +8 in plus-minus. If he picks up a few fouls early, the Bobcats' defense will require some creative schemes from Steve Clifford. What happened in game one cannot happen in game two.
Another key area the Bobcats will need to focus on is drawing fouls. They attempted just 12 free throws in game one to the Heat's 26, and while it's easy to point fingers at the officiating crew, the fact of the matter is that the Bobcats did not initiate contact enough to warrant more calls. There were surely some questionable calls in game one, but the Bobcats will need to attack the paint with vitriol if they're to gain the respect of the officials and, by extension, the Miami Heat.
Respect is earned, as they say.
Tonight's game will be tough for the Bobcats whether Jefferson is available or not, and their margin for error is becoming increasingly small. The Bobcats can beat the Heat. It's just a matter of consistency and mental toughness.
Let's go Bobcats!