Make no mistake, this playoff series should not leave your eyes worse for wear, on either side of the floor. I'm sad to say it might not last as long as I'd want, which is more to laud the Heat's accumulation of talent than denigrating the Bobcats', but if that's the way it goes, that's the way it goes. But this should be fun to watch, regardless of how long it lasts.
LeBron James vs Charlotte's defense
This is Public Enemy No. 1 for the Bobcats. He's the center of the Heat's offense, though not the end-all, be-all. For the seventh straight season LeBron improved his season field goal percentage so he's got the scoring chops, as if his 61-point game against Charlotte isn't proof enough. He's perhaps the closest thing to a true point-center we have ever seen.
I'd expect LeBron to go back to his bread and butter post game in the playoffs, as it's one of his most efficient and imposing skills as a scorer . He's also so great as a passer that this can help open space for Miami's shooters, especially if Charlotte is forced to double-team.
As we've seen with LeBron and Carmelo Anthony, the Bobcats' normally exemplary defense can be exposed by extremely talented isolation players that can easily score inside and out. Because Charlotte is willing to give up the midrange shot more willingly than collapsing the defense, the one-name talent who can move from position to position with ease, like LeBron or Carmelo or Cher, can exploit Charlotte's defense into a major collapse. Thankfully, this doesn't happen very often. Charlotte gave up huge games to them this year, but they are generally terrific and preventing a singular player from dominating.
It's going to be an extremely tough matchup for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG was drafted for his outstanding defense but he's going to have his hands full. The individual matchup will be tough enough but the Bobcats rely on his versatility to complete their team defense. He's a super savvy defender at recognizing where he needs to be. Kidd-Gilchrist is probably the centerpiece of Charlotte's defense. Outside of just looking at how awful the defense was without him, Kidd-Gilchrist holds down the "nail", the spot at the middle of the floor near the free throw line. This means he's the defensive fulcrum between strong and weak side defense. His rotations and ability to cover ground quickly and aptly are a main component of how good Charlotte's defense is. With Miami's scoring balance and ability to put LeBron in the paint while stacking the three-point line with shooters will stretch MKG and Charlotte's defense.
So perhaps the main question in this series will be if or how the Bobcats can contain LeBron James, especially after the shellacking he gave them in March.
Al Jefferson vs Chris Bosh
This might be my favorite individual matchup. LeBron vs Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be fun its own right as I talked about before, but this one's got two outstanding players with terrific impact offensively and defensively.
Al Jefferson's become the rock of this team after a very shaky start following his ankle injury. His accolades have come from all over and justifiably so. Jefferson's the most reliable scoring threat on Charlotte and the most important part to Charlotte's offense. As much as we had reason to fret about Charlotte's offensive spacing earlier this season, without Jefferson we wouldn't have had as much reason to worry. He is the foundation of the offense, the requisite to the Bobcats needing more offensive spacing.
Chris Bosh is underratedly one of the best frontcourt defenders in the league. He doesn't block a ton of shots but he's so fundamentally sound with his footwork and rotations. His defensive performance in the NBA Finals last year and the year prior should be proof enough. But even he will be in a tough spot against Al Jefferson, who is so good at ball fakes that had he played center in football rather than basketball, he would singlehandedly march his team up the field on offsides penalties.
Jefferson, too, will have a tough defensive matchup individually against Bosh. Bosh's three-point shooting gives Miami an added offensive dimension to stretch the floor even more and give their players more room to work in the paint. But even without that, Bosh is a fine player on the block facing up or with his back to the basket. He's just no Al Jefferson.
Playoff Kemba Walker is back!
In college, Kemba Walker owned the postseason with an incredible run in 2011. Playing five games in five days, UCONN stormed the Big East Championship on Kemba's back, which, along with the rest of his body, scored 26 points per game in that tournament. Fatigue or not, Walker and the Huskies would not be stopped in the NCAA Tournament either. Kemba Walker launched himself into the collegiate annals with terrific performance after terrific performance and a couple of great stepback buzzer-beaters in those tournaments.
And now it is finally time to see what he does on the biggest stage of postseason competition in the NBA Playoffs. The Bobcats won't have to rely on his offense solely, but he'll still be a huge deciding factor of how well the team plays against Miami. His ability to break down defenders off the dribble could come up big as defenses tighten up. But there is also the fear the Bobcats might get too much iso-Kemba, though I'm not sure how likely that is with Jefferson on the floor as well.
Do you remember the last time the Bobcats were on national television that wasn't NBA TV? Sadly, I do. It was the game against the Knicks to end their horrific 2011-12 season. For whatever reason, TNT came to Charlotte and the Bobcats lost their 23rd straight game, ending the season with the worst winning percentage of any NBA team ever.
This will be their first time back in the primetime, if I'm not mistaken. It begins at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC Sunday, April 20.
How well the Bobcats play can win them plenty of goodwill for the future. Broadcasting them across the country and the world against the league's premier team and top player can win them fans near and far, as well as entice networks into wanting to put them on national television in the future. All this makes for healthier team financials and a more-appreciated team, which I'm certainly for. Decry bandwagon fans if you want but I'm all for making the Bobcats (soon to be Hornets) as popular as can be.
The Bobcats have the clear advantage with Josh McRoberts' smooth, silky locks and Chris Douglas-Roberts' eccentric and innovative hairdo. Maybe if LeBron could grow something that wouldn't look like James' hairstyle from Good Times, we'd have a better matchup, but there is little contest. Chris Andersen will give it his best shot as Birdman, but the Bobcats have the best hair duo seen in a long time.