Series preview: Heat vs. Bobcats
Our 5-on-5 crew breaks down the first-round matchup between the Heat and Bobcats:
1. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Heat?
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: The idea that you haven't seen their best yet. Ray Allen hasn't shot this poorly from 3 (37.5 percent) in four years. It's quite possible he hits a hot streak in the postseason. Same for Mr. Regression to the Mean, Shane Battier, who shot more than eight points worse from 3 this year (34.8) than last year (43.0). Combine that with the prospect of playing the same rotation players for any extended time, and the Heat could have a significant boost waiting for them in the playoffs.
John Krolik, Cavs: the Blog: LeBron James. Even though Kevin Durant will almost certainly win the 2014 MVP, James' ability to dominate every area of the game makes the Heat a daunting opponent for anyone.
Spencer Percy, Queen City Hoops: I'm faithful to NBA basketball in the city of Charlotte, so what's not scary about the Heat to me? In all seriousness, it's LeBron. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will start on him, but that ended in the tune of 61 points for James on one occasion between the two in the regular season. It'll be a true team effort to keep him in check.
David Walker, Roundball Mining Company: Probably the 6-8, 240-pound forward from Akron. All Charlotte can really do is throw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on LeBron James and pray.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Their uncertainty. You simply just don't know what you're going to get from those guys this postseason. There have been questions all season long with this team, and very few answers were provided over the course of the 82-game regular season. We still don't know the extent of Dwyane Wade's health, the rotation status of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, the level to which Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers should be trusted, or what exactly to expect from Chris Bosh. All we know is that LeBron James will do his job. Perhaps that's all you need in this round.
2. What's the scariest thing -- good or bad -- about the Bobcats?
Gutierrez: The inside-outside threat. The Cats may not be overflowing with deadly 3-point shooters, but if the Heat pay extra attention to Al Jefferson and his old-school, efficient post game, then the combination of Kemba Walker, Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson and possibly even Josh McRoberts could make life difficult for Miami. That fear starts with Jefferson, though, who averaged 24.5 points, 14.3 rebounds and 53 percent shooting in eight April games.
Krolik: For most teams, it would be Charlotte's greatly improved defense, but for the Heat, it's Al Jefferson. The Heat are as undersized as ever inside, and Greg Oden's glacial lateral movement has kept him from being a post-stopper.
Percy: Al Jefferson is the politically correct answer, but honestly, I believe it's that they're a complete team. They can be 10 guys deep, and they'll come at you by committee from night-to-night. They are deceivingly tough to devise a game plan for.
Walker: The fact that Charlotte's offense is not predicated on the pick-and-roll. Miami's defense is designed to take away dribble penetration by overcompensating to stop the ball handler, but teams that manufacture points through post-ups and isolations in the paint, like Charlotte does, give the Heat trouble.
Wallace: That they've played desperate, playoff-level basketball for more than three weeks now and will be on top of their game entering the playoffs. The Bobcats are scrappy, defensive-minded, young, and full of athleticism and quickness around Al Jefferson. They have nothing to lose in this series. Unfortunately, this isn't the NCAA tournament, where a hot Kemba Walker and one night of dominance from Al Jefferson is all you need to survive, shake up the bracket and advance.
3. Who's the biggest X-factor in this series?
Gutierrez: For the Heat, it's likely Udonis Haslem. He'll have to do his best against Jefferson, while making the Cats pay for clogging the paint when he's on the floor. For Charlotte, it's probably Gerald Henderson. He'll have to guard Dwyane Wade, but more importantly, he'll have to make Wade defend. If Wade can coast on the defensive end, or play the passing lanes with no repercussions, then Wade's transition from hamstring injury to fully healthy could go a lot smoother.
Krolik: Kemba Walker. Normally I'd say Dwyane Wade, but Miami can win this series without him anywhere near 100 percent. For Charlotte to have a chance, Walker will need to have the series of his life.
Percy: Al Jefferson. Miami doesn't really have anyone to guard him, so if he turns into the Big Al he was in February and March, then this will definitely be a closer series than most thought. It will be interesting to see how Spoelstra approaches guarding Jefferson and how much Greg Oden plays to help with the cause.
Walker: How many meaningful minutes Spoelstra dares to play Wade and James. Miami, for all its platitudes about staying in the moment, has its eye on the prize. How the Heat balance the need for a short series and a minutes cap for their stars will likely determine how long this series gets drawn out.
Wallace: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. We've seen him defensively absorb the bulk of Carmelo Anthony's 62-point onslaught, as well as LeBron's 61-point career night this season. But if the Bobcats are able to get anything meaningful accomplished in this series, they need to get an impact performance on both ends from Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft two years ago. He's essentially been invisible in the four matchups against Miami this season. We know what Jefferson and Walker can do. But Charlotte will need help from its highest-profile lottery pick to have a fighting chance.
4. What's one BOLD prediction for this series?
Gutierrez: Chris Bosh will average 20 points and eight rebounds for the series. In four regular-season games, Bosh averaged 17.3 points on 57 percent shooting, including 53 percent from distance, against Charlotte. With the Bobcats likely paying proper attention to LeBron (he did drop 61 on Charlotte the last time they met), and with Wade back in to set him up even more, Bosh is set up for a high-impact first round.
Krolik: Al Jefferson is going to look like a guy who should be put on one of the All-NBA teams.
Percy: Charlotte will push Miami to six games. It certainly isn't always easy on the eyes when watching the Bobcats, especially offensively in stretches, but they muddy the waters on the defensive end for every opponent, and they have a snubbed All-Star that they'll ride as far as he takes them.
Walker: Al Jefferson will explode for 40 or more points one game. Left forgotten in LeBron's 61-point torching of the Bobcats was an extremely efficient 38 and 19 game from Jefferson. At times, he alone has carried Charlotte's offense through his bruising post-ups, and a player of his ilk is uniquely qualified to bully Chris Bosh down low.
Wallace: LeBron will score 39 in Game 1. After a full week of rest, expect LeBron to pick up where he left off with another huge game against the Bobcats. He knows Kidd-Gilchrist will still have that deer-in-the-headlights look defensively. LeBron may have essentially conceded the regular-season MVP to Kevin Durant, but he'll make a statement from the start of the postseason. A 39-point eruption would give him an even 100 over the course of two straight games against Charlotte on the heels of his 61-point career night last month.
5. Who wins this series and in how many games?
5-on-5: 2014 Playoff Series Previews
Our five-expert teams break down every first-round series in the '14 postseason.
• 5-on-5 preview: Pacers vs. Hawks
• 5-on-5 preview: Heat vs. Bobcats
• 5-on-5 preview: Raptors vs. Nets
• 5-on-5 preview: Bulls vs. Wizards
• 5-on-5 preview: Spurs vs. Mavericks
• 5-on-5 preview: Thunder vs. Grizzlies
• 5-on-5 preview: Clippers vs. Warriors
• 5-on-5 preview: Rockets vs. Blazers
Gutierrez: Heat in five. The Heat have only swept one team (Milwaukee last season) since LeBron came to Miami, so it's hard to predict a sweep, despite the 4-0 regular season sweep. That means Charlotte, which has gone 16-6 since LeBron dropped 61, will likely win at least one. Wouldn't be surprised at all if it stretches to six.
Krolik: Heat in five. Even if the Heat don't ratchet up their intensity right away after a lackluster (for them) regular season, the talent gap here is simply too wide.
Percy: Miami in six. It's rather clear that the Heat simply have too much firepower for their opponent in this series. Just a thought, but if the Bobcats did pull the upset, would it not be the biggest upset in NBA playoff history? I think so.
Walker: Miami in five games. Other than the Bucks last season, the Heat haven't swept a series in the three seasons the big three have been together, and this Bobcats team is much better than Milwaukee was last year.
Wallace: Heat in four. The Bobcats will have far more fight in them than the Bucks did in falling to the Heat in four games in last year's first-round series. But a sweep is still a sweep. Overall, just getting this far is a success for Charlotte, who are one more key free-agent addition away from really being a threat in the East next season.