The Charlotte Bobcats doubled their win total from last season and shot up the standings this season. However, a potential run in with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat could spell a quick end to Charlotte’s second ever postseason appearance.
The Story So Far
The Charlotte Bobcats have only made the playoffs once since their inception in 2004-05 season, and before the season, not many gave them a chance to make their second appearance.
However, after reinventing themselves as a gritty defensive unit, the Bobcats not only doubled their total wins from last season, but also their postseason appearance total and can finish no worse than seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Currently sitting in seventh with a 42-39 record, Charlotte can leapfrog the sixth-placed Washington Wizards (43-38) on the final day of the season if the Bobcats win and Wizards lose, as they own the tiebreaker between the two.
Regardless of where they finish, the turnaround in Charlotte has been an impressive one.
Last season, the Bobcats were a mess, finishing with a 21-61 record – their third consecutive season with 34 or less wins.
This season, under new head coach Steve Clifford, Charlotte improved out of sight on the defensive end, revitalising their stagnant franchise.
Less than 12 months ago, they allowed a second-worst 102.7 points allowed per game and were dead last in defensive rating in the league (111.5). Fast-forward to the eve of the playoffs and Charlotte is top-10 in both of those categories – fourth in points allowed (97.2) and sixth in defensive rating (104.0).
The addition of Al Jefferson has also been a revelation in North Carolina. Many questioned both Charlotte and Jefferson’s logic when the two agreed to a three-year, $41 million deal before the season. But after watching him reward his new club’s faith to the tune of 22.0 points (11th in the league), 10.8 rebounds (seventh) and 1.1 blocks per game, and considering Charlotte’s rising up the rankings, it is hard to question either party’s decision.
Despite his great numbers, Jefferson rarely receives the hype he deserves. To put things in perspective, only four other players in the league averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. He’s also 12th in the league for both PER (22.8), 12th and defensive rating (100.1). Meanwhile, Jefferson was overlooked for the All-Star game.
Meanwhile, Kemba Walker has continued to develop into a solid starting point guard, averaging 17.6 points, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Gerald Henderson (14.1 points per game) and Gary Neal (11.5 points on 44.6% FG and 40.9% 3FG) provide the Bobcats with the scoring spark the rest of their roster desperately lacks – Charlotte is 23rd in points per game (96.9) and 24th in offensive rating (103.7).
At the same time, the contributions of Josh McRoberts (8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game – second amongst power forwards), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds) and Anthony Tolliver (41.3% 3FG – 16th in the league) should also not be overlooked.
Postseason Performer to Watch
Given their likely matchup with the Miami Heat in the first round, the size of Jefferson could be Charlotte’s biggest weapon in the postseason.
Miami’s lack of size has been well documented, and Big Al could be just the catalyst that the Bobcats need to cause an upset.
Against the reigning champs, Jefferson produces well above his season averages, punishing the Heat with 25.3 points (at 57.4%) and 15.3 rebounds per game.
When LeBron James dropped a career-high 61 points against the Bobcats, lost amongst the hype was a monster 38-point and 19-rebound performance by Jefferson on the other end.
He has been their best player all season – and holds a significant size advantage over Miami’s smaller frontline – expect Jefferson to be Charlotte’s best performer come the postseason.
It is not often that a team doubles their win tally from the season before and is greeted with such little fanfare.
The turnaround in Charlotte has been nothing short of remarkable, but their appearance in the playoffs is no accident and the jokes about the franchise should stop immediately.
Even Miami should be wary of the Bobcat’s elite defence.
However, the Heat boast an equally stingy defence of their own and should have no problem shutting down Charlotte’s limited offence.
The Bobcats should be able to exploit Miami’s smaller frontcourt through the exceptional play of Jefferson, but will need to get a significantly greater offensive output from secondary scorers like Walker, Henderson and Neal to pose any threat of taking a game from the Heat.
Miami swept their season series against the Bobcats 3-0, expect them to do the same in the first round.
Charlotte could move into sixth if Washington lose to Boston – setting up a much more winnable first round showdown with the Toronto Raptors – on the final day of the season, but with playoff seeding on the line, it is improbably that the Wizards let one slip to such a lowly team.
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