NBA Playoff Preview: Charlotte Bobcats vs. Miami Heat

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Charlotte Bobcats: 43-39 (7 seed)
Miami Heat: 54-28 (2 seed)

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Charlotte Bobcats: 101.2 (24th), Defense 101.2 (6th in the NBA)

Miami Heat: Offense 109 (2nd in the NBA), Defense 102.9 (11th in the NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Al Jefferson: The Bobcats’ big free agent signing last summer is the reason the team finds itself in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and just the second time since the franchise moved to Charlotte in 2004. Jefferson has been the anchor offensively, averaging 21.8 points and hauling down 10.8 rebounds per game. And that’s going to be a problem for Miami, considering that defending elite post players is where the team struggles most defensively. Jefferson will need to increase his output against the Heat’s soft front line defense, or at the very least, cause double teams defensively that open up shots for his teammates.

2. Healthy Heat: Miami played too many games this season at less than full strength, with players being shuffled in and out of the lineup to compensate over the long, 82-game grind of the regular season. But all 15 players practiced in advance of the first round matchup, and you can bet that Greg Oden will get some run defensively trying to slow Jefferson. Having Dwyane Wade available for the postseason push will obviously be a boost as well, but for Miami the goal here is to find some chemistry with its best players, and form a playoff rotation moving forward that it can rely on as the team moves deeper into the postseason.

3. How quickly does Miami flip the switch? It’s been a long regular season for the Heat, but now that the playoffs are here, it should theoretically be go time. No team has made it to the Finals four straight seasons in almost 30 years, and there’s a reason for that. For Miami to become the first, it will need to get to the more meaningful matchups as quickly as possible, while exerting the minimum amount of energy to do so. This Heat team hasn’t historically swept its playoff opponents, but if it can dispatch the Bobcats in four straight, it may give us an indication of juts how ready they are to begin their title defense.

PREDICTION

It really comes down to whether or not the combination of the Bobcats solid defense and Al Jefferson’s inside presence can combine to give the Heat fits for one or two games. It would take an extremely strange set of circumstances for Charlotte to earn four victories, and we’ll go with the more likely scenario that they manage to squeak out one instead.

Heat in 5.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.