The Bobcats opponent in the playoffs is still wildly up in the air. Due to possible changes in the top four seeds and the bottom few seeds, The Bobcats could possibly face four teams: the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors or the Chicago Bulls. In the next week, we have some brief perspectives from our side and from the opponents on these possible matchups. Today we start with the Raptors.
with William Lou of Raptors Republic
How do you think a playoff series would go against Charlotte?
It would definitely be slow, plodding, and half-court oriented, which is exactly how both teams like it. The Bobcats and Raptors rank 21st and 24th respectively in pace, and both teams heavily prioritize defense over offense. It will be a massive struggle for the Raptors to stop Al Jefferson, as 6'6 Chuck Hayes is their best post-defender.
Ultimately, I think the series would likely be decided by a pair of sophomores in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Both players have shown flashes, but have struggled to find consistency early in their careers. Ross is a deadly three-point shooter, but he needs other players to set him up, and when his shot isn't falling, he becomes a non-factor on offense. On the other hand, Jonas has played better of late, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game over his last 10 contests, but he'll be counted on to pressure Al Jefferson on both ends of the floor, which is a tall order for a 21-year-old.
My prediction: Raptors win in 7 games, but it's a very closely contested series with both teams struggling to crack 90 points every night.
What match ups would you be most worried about?
The two match ups I'm most worried about are center, and surprisingly, shooting guard.
The mismatch at center is obvious. Al Jefferson has played like a man possessed over the last month (earned him Player of the Month for March), and Jonas Valanciunas is the only legitimate center on the roster. While it's certainly possible that Jonas gets the upper hand in one or two contests, Big Al should make a meal out of the Raptors' frontline. Toronto's best bet on defense might actually be Chuck Hayes, who is a strong post-defender, but he's 6'6 and a total zero on offense.
The other matchup of note is shooting guard. DeMar DeRozan often struggles with physical defenders, and lacks the ball-handling ability to blow by players, so MKG seems like the logical choice to guard him. He is also extremely confident in his mid-range jumper, and if Charlotte's defenders are smart, they'll concede semi-contested 17-foot fadeaways.
However, the bigger worry might be on defense, as DeRozan likely be forced to chase Gerald Henderson around screens, which is something he struggles with. My fellow blogger (and noted beard/WWE enthusiast) Blake Murphybroke down one of their previous outings where Henderson dropped 23 points on the Raptors, thanks in large part to DeRozan's defensive negligence.
Do you put any stock into the earlier meetings this season?
Well, I was in attendance the night Kemba Walker sank a fall-away, buzzer-beating, game-winning jump-shot in overtime, so I might be a tad biased, but I absolutely put stock into their meetings. Although their first two contests took place during the Rudy Gay era, the commonality across the three games is that the Raptors have been stymied by Charlotte's defense. The bulk of Toronto's offense comes from the perimeter, and Charlotte did a great job (Good Charlotte? I miss those guys) running the Raptors off the three-point line. With no significant changes on either roster, I don't expect the trend to change.
Who on the Raptors has the best chance of having a big series?
Kyle Lowry. He's Toronto's best player, and he's the Raptors' answer to everything. If they need a bucket, Lowry drives to the basket and muscles his way to the hoop. If the Raptors need a three to tie the game, Lowry runs around a pin-down from Amir Johnson, and spots up from the wing. He leads the Raptors in both PER (19.9) and Win Shares (10.2, 8th in the NBA).
Who on the Bobcats has the best chance of having a big series?
The obvious answer is Al Jefferson, for reasons I detailed above, but I'm actually to go on a limb, and predict that Charlotte's bench as a whole would have a big series. The Raptors' second unit is 27th in the NBA in terms of points per game at 26.0, and although the Bobcat's bench isn't much better (29.3 PPG, 20th), trade deadline acquisitions in Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal should supply decent offensive production.
The Raptors are an interesting match up for the Bobcats. I won't go so far as to say the Bobcats own them, but according to previous meetings, they have a large advantage over them. Of all teams the Bobcats could face in the 1st round, this is the most winnable for them. This has nothing to do with Toronto's skill (Toronto is a very good team) but everything to do with the Bobcats matchup advantages.
The Bobcats have a big advantage inside against the Raptors because Toronto doesn't have anybody that can really contain Al Jefferson. Jefferson is so deceptive and strong he's going to cause a lot of issues for a Raptors front court that looks a bit over matched. It's also worth noting that in one of the Bobcats three victories against Toronto (they swept the season series) Charlotte was missing Kemba Walker from the lineup and still won.
The Raptors are a defense-first kind of team and this also gives the Bobcats an advantage being one themselves. If the Bobcats can manage to play better defense, it can give them the edge. One thing I've noticed about Toronto is they can get a little mid range jumpshot-happy sometimes. Charlotte is more than happy to give that shot up due to it being such a low-percentage shot. If the Bobcats can play strong defense and above-average offense they would have a very good chance at pulling off an upset if these two met in a playoff series. There is one thing that seems certain: If these two meet, the series is going to go long. Six or seven games feels inevitable at this point.
-- Chris Barnewall