The Charlotte Bobcats are 0-for-LeBron: winless in 15 meetings with the Miami Heat since LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed on to join Dwyane Wade and form the NBA’s most recent super team.
It could be rough when the Bobcats open this best-of-7 playoff series at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at American Airlines Arena. The difference in playoff experience is stunning: 1,069 games and 727 starts for available Heat players. 127 games and 15 starts for available Bobcats players.
But the games these teams have played against each other this season tell a different story. Sure, James lit up the Bobcats for 61 points the last time. But in that same game, Bobcats center Al Jefferson had 38 points and 19 rebounds. Jefferson is shooting 57 percent from the field in the series this season.
The Bobcats had a late 10-point lead in Miami, only to see Bosh hit three unexpected 3-pointers to save a one-point victory. Another game went to overtime.
So it’s not preposterous the Bobcats could extend this series to five or six games. But for that to happen, the following five things are pretty much essential:
Play a “clean” game: The Bobcats commit the fewest turnovers and fewest fouls in the NBA. That has to continue in the playoffs. They are simply not talented enough offensively to overcome playing sloppy.
The turnovers – they average a league-low 12.3 per game – are particularly important. The Heat is second in the NBA in steals, second in points-off-opponent turnover. That compensates for Miami’s last-in-the-league rebounding, creating extra possessions.
The Bobcats are a good defensive team when they guard five-on-five. That breaks down when turnovers create scrambled situations. If that happens more than occasionally, the Bobcats are in trouble.
Steal some put-back baskets: The Heat excels in so many ways. Yet they are last in the NBA in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and overall rebounds. That is something the Bobcats can exploit.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller are good at attacking the offensive glass. There will be opportunities to do so.
But a caution: Bobcats coach Steve Clifford makes getting back in defensive transition non-negotiable. That means they’ve been trained to run away from offensive rebounds, not toward them. That won’t – and shouldn’t – be unlearned this playoff series.
Don’t overreact to James’ brilliance: That 61-point performance James had in the last Bobcats-Heat game has taken on artificial importance. He made eight of 10 3-pointers. That won’t happen on a regular basis. If it does, then it doesn’t matter what defensive strategy the Bobcats employ.
James is most dangerous as a driver and a passer. He wants you to double-team him constantly because he’s so adept at finding open teammates. Take the bait and Bosh and Wade get layups and open 3-pointers.
Attack the Heat’s point guards: Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole aren’t particularly strong perimeter defenders. Kemba Walker must try to exploit that.
Walker in the pick-and-roll is the Bobcats’ backup option to Jefferson’s post-ups. The Heat has typically contained Walker with “blitzes” – overplaying him with multiple defenders to reduce his movement and space to shoot.
But that has to create open shots for others. Walker needs to find those others.
Enjoy the moment: There was no expectation the Bobcats would make the playoffs. They overachieved, winning seven of eight games in April.
The playoffs are a reward for all that good work. Three starters and three more rotation players have no playoff experience, so this is, at worst, is an valuable learning experience.