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Playoff Preview: Heat-Bobcats

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, how many times do we need to go through this? It’s the Miami Heat. The analytic-minded, started from the film room now he’s here, Erik Spoelstra has four-top five overall draft selections at his disposal. They’re the champion until someone revokes the belt.

What more analysis can one give? Offensively, there will be penetration, kick-out passes to shooters, who will swing the ball around the perimeter to other shooters, and someone will eventually drop the ball through the hoop – this is going to happen a lot. However, perhaps the feat, moment, even the opportunity to compete for three-consecutive NBA titles is too large for Miami to comprehend, let alone grasp, clutch or take home as their own. The lowly Charlotte Bobcats are the first to stand in the Heat’s path to yet another NBA Finals.

In this series; everything revolves around Al Jefferson. The narrative; he’s an impressive, multi-faceted, center that may never have the coveted, signature postseason moment during his career. Jefferson suffered whilst in the doldrums with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, though he valiantly absorbed subtleties that developed into skills provoking him to become all-medieval-like with the Bobcats.

Jefferson is a refined offensive player.

He’s a perfect prod to Miami’s ‘defensive shortcomings’ in that it’s going to take multiple members of the Heat to contain the pulse of Charlotte’s livelihood that is their 40-million dollar man. Despite season after season of dismay and disappointments, Jefferson sustained his grit, health and ability throughout an underwhelming career. It’s only right that one of basketball’s underappreciated gladiators is bestowed the opportunity to fight in an epic, glorious battle, against such a worthy adversary on the game’s biggest stage.

Where Jefferson may potentially exploit the Heat is in the midrange area in between five and nine feet from the basket. Though the prefered shot-attempt is a little closer to the hoop, an offense doesn’t always get the highest percentage look on each possession. The Heat allowed opponents to shoot 44 percent from this, mid range-distance during the season; a league worst. Part of this is by design. Around the NBA, teams contest looks around the rim in addition to schematically preventing opponents from receiving entry-passes into the high and low post areas.

Miami finished second among all teams in total steals, this season, but, unavoidably, prominent post-players find ways to attain possession in the high and low, block areas. Once faced with post-defense situations, the Heat often send the double-team to induce a decision from the ball-handler. Reacting, opposing forwards are faced with the choice; kick things out to the perimeter, or attempt a number of different moves seeking to score a basket. The Bobcats are going to try and put Jefferson in this position as often as they can.

 

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This is the shot chart of attempts taken from the aforementioned area by Miami’s opponents. Notice – allowing teams to shoot a high percentage from the area three-feet away from the rim and between the three-point line is acceptable, as long as opponents aren’t receiving an open, easy a few steps away from the rim. In these series, while the double-team will oft rush to Jefferson, there will still be instances when a Miami player is stranded one-on-one against the Bobcats center. This lone-defender will favor being near the rim, as opposed to pressing the ball, because it’s important he not allow the easy layup — if a shooter makes a contested, midrange jumper — teams such as Miami will live with those results.

The Bobcats shoot below league average in three of these five areas.

The Bobcats shoot below league average in three of these five areas.

This is where the obvious concern lies for the Bobcats, perimeter shooting and scoring outside of Jefferson is going to be hard to come by. Charlotte is not only the NBA’s 23rd ranked team in three-point shooting; the Bobcats rank 25th in field goal percentage. Individually, of the five players that attempted more than hundred three-pointers during the season — only Anthony Tolliver managed an average greater than 40 percent on looks from ‘downtown’. Even as the Bobcats recorded seven wins to only one loss during the month of April, thus far, Charlotte failed to shoot over 36 percent from three-point range.

Furthermore, albeit the Heat and Bobcats is an obvious miss-match to most, the gap between these two teams on-paper is slim. Since January 1st, Miami averaged 99.6 points per game over a span of 51 games — the Heat were 30-21 during this stretch — while Charlotte, likewise, averaging 99.6ppg en route to a similar, 29-21, record since bringing in the new year. The gap between the second and the seventh-seed widens when looking within the some of the more-advanced metrics; that’s the imprint Spoelstra’s left during the time he’s spent coaching the team that makes it’s home in South Beach. Miami’s offensive rating, true-shooting percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio belittle the Bobcats’ numbers (dating back to the first of January) when they are compared side by side.

Things such as overconfidence in series such as this one, where one side has a distinct advantage both statistically and in terms of player-personnel over the other, are unquantifiable — but there are undoubtedly those who believe it will be a factor. Spoelstra and the Heat must not overlook the opponent, because this is merely a test for Kemba Walker and the young, developing-core players mixed within a bundle of role-playing, journeyman — while Jefferson and first-year head coach Steve Clifford look to authenticate their presence in the NBA as anything but the prototypical, postseason pushovers.

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