Friday, April 18, 2014

East Round 1 Preview: (2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats

Dwyane Wade needs to be at full strength for Miami to make another run. This series is his first test.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

By the Numbers

54-28 (32-9 Home; 22-19 Road)
PPG: 102.2 (12th); PPG Allowed: 97.4 (5th)
+4.8 Average Scoring Margin (T-4th)
Off Rating: 109.0 (2nd); Def Rating: 102.9 (11th)
+6.1 Net Efficiency Rating (4th)

43-39 (25-16 Home; 18-23 Road)
PPG: 96.9 (23rd); PPG Allowed: 97.1 (4th)
-0.2 Average Scoring Margin (16th)
Off Rating: 101.2 (24th); Def Rating: 101.2 (6th)
+0.0 Net Efficiency Rating (16th)

Season Series: Miami 4-0
Miami 97, Charlotte 81 (November 16)
Miami 99, Charlotte 98 (December 1)
Miami 104, Charlotte 96 - OT (January 18)
Miami 124, Charlotte 107 (March 3)

Players to Watch

Dwyane Wade

Let's be honest. We all know that Miami is heavily favored in this series - so heavily that if you want to wager on Miami, you have to put up $3600 to win only $100. The next-highest odds are San Antonio, where you only have to lay $900 to win $100. In other words, we pretty much know that Miami is going to win.

So the point of this series for Miami is to see what kind of groove they can get themselves in before the real test starts in Round 2 (although they'd probably make quick work of Toronto should that be the matchup - the real test might not start until the Eastern Finals). At the center of that is Dwyane Wade, who played just 54 games this year and averaged a career-low in minutes when he did play, just 32.9. The only season he played fewer total minutes was in the lockout season in 2012.

Miami did something similar last season - over-resting Wade in the regular season in the hope that he'd be bouncy and spry in the playoffs. It didn't exactly turn out that way, Wade had his worst postseason performance since his rookie season, averaging just a 16/5/5, compared to his 23/4/5 in their 2012 title run and his 25/7/5 in 2011. If Miami wants to even reach the Finals this year, let alone three-peat, they need to hope that all the rest Wade got over the last six months will pay off with improved play over the next two. 

Al Jefferson

Charlotte's odds in this series are bad. If you want to make the most bold prediction of your life, say that Charlotte will win because Al Jefferson can absolutely dominate Miami inside. And really, you'd only be half-wrong.

Jefferson *can* dominate Miami inside. Whether it will matter enough to change the outcome of the series is very much in doubt, but Jefferson should have his way against Miami's front line. Like with Wade's health and overall production, it will be important to watch not for this series itself, but for Miami's chances going forward. If Jefferson goes inside and blows up Miami's entire defensive scheme, there's a pretty good chance that Roy Hibbert would be able to do it in the Conference Finals should both teams advance that far.

Jefferson had a very nice season, and could have a very nice series. Ultimately, however, it will serve better as a harbinger of Miami's success as they go deeper into the playoffs.

The Case for Miami

They're the two-time defending champs with the three best players in the series playing against a team with almost no postseason experience.

Best-Case Scenario: Nobody gets injured. Miami wins in 4.

The Case for Charlotte

Space Jam happens for real and LeBron, Wade, and Bosh have their powers stolen by Gary Neal, Jeffery Taylor, and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Best-Case Scenario: Charlotte has one game (probably Game 3) where Jefferson is a beast on the block, Kemba Walker is a whirling dervish of scoring and dishing, and the looming spectre of Michael Jordan in the owner's box spooks LeBron into a poor shooting night. Charlotte gets their one win of the series before falling in five.

The Pick

Miami in 4

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