To paraphrase ex-NFL coach Dennis Green, this series is what we thought they were. The Heat started off Game 1 sluggishly, with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade admitting to being gassed. The Bobcats got off to a decent start and “Big Al” Jefferson was ready to show a wide audience (the first Bobcats game to be televised nationally all season) how he led the team to the playoffs. And then the wheels came off the bus. Literally. Jefferson aggravated the plantar fascia (it’s in the foot), he was limited in his mobility, and Miami displayed the superior playmaking and intensity that has led to two straight titles.
Jefferson and the ‘Cats were whisked away by Coach Steve Clifford to avoid distraction from the glittering lights of South Beach and will presumably come back with renewed focus. But will it be enough?
Let’s take a look at what we can look forward to when Bobcats-Heat Game 2 tips off tonight at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
D-WADE IS BACK???
It certainly looks that way, which means trouble for the rest of the Eastern Conference. Despite early fatigue, Wade looked like the Hall-of-Famer of yesteryear. He dropped 23 points on an efficient 10-16 shooting, and did it in typically Wade-ian fashion; mid-range jumpers, working the low-post against Gerald Henderson and looking as athletic as he has in months. Miami will still go as far as James takes them but having Wade, Bosh (who shot a miserable 4-of-13 in Game 1) and the supporting cast come up huge is a big part of the Heat’s pursuit of a three-peat. And about that cast…
JAMES JONES??? YES, JAMES JONES…
The Heat is obviously defined by the “Big Three,” but the roster was built with veteran role players that have stepped at various times during the past four seasons. In Game 1 it was Jones, the veteran shooter that has languished on the bench for much of the season. But with Ray Allen struggling with his shot, Heat Head Coach Erik Spoesltra looked down his bench hoping for a spark and got an unexpected one from Jones. Is that likely to continue? No. The Bobcats won’t leave him as open as he was on Sunday. But Miami will look to get future boosts from some of their other role players, namely Allen, Rashard Lewis and Shane Battier, who has been kept out of several games by Spoelstra. That’s what makes Miami so dangerous…keying on the James and Co. is important but you can’t ignore the rest of the team. Just ask Oklahoma City and the Spurs.
ANYONE STEPPING UP FOR CHARLOTTE? ANYONE?
Jefferson won’t play his usually-solid game. Despite his game being below the rim, he needs nimble footwork to be effective; slim chance with a bum foot. But who else comes up big for the Bobcats? The obvious answer is Kemba Walker. He showed spurts of that superior athleticism at the start of the 3rd quarter (finishing with 20 points). It just wasn’t enough. Walker might lead the charge but getting productivity from starters like Henderson and Josh McRoberts (other than highlight-reel dunks) as well as bench players like Gary Neal, Cody Zeller and Luke Ridnour will be key to stealing a game in Miami and shifting momentum before heading back to Charlotte.