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Charles Bisbee

Celtics Thoughts posted by Charles Bisbee

Here are some thoughts on the Celtics as training camps open:

·      It’ll be interesting to see how much KG has left in the tank. His numbers have regressed across the board from just a couple seasons ago. Nonetheless, the intangibles and the desire remain intact and it’s impossible to discount the role they’ll play on a young Celtics squad. Rondo may be the C’s best player, but KG remains the team's heart and soul.

·      Here’s hoping Garnett can effectively light a fire under rookie Jared Sullinger, the talented but scatter-brained big man from Ohio State. Sullinger impressed during Orlando Summer League action, scoring 20 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in just 24 minutes of action during his first game. Talent, however, has never been the issue. If KG can continually keep Sullinger focused and dedicated, the Celts may have the answer at power forward over the next 10-15 years.

·      I’m interested to see how Avery Bradley handles an increased workload when he returns in January. With Keyon Dooling retired and Ray Allen in Miami, Bradley will get the bulk of the load backing up Rondo and aging (but still effective) combo-guard Jason Terry. Bradley is a shut-down defender, but I'm not sure he can produce enough offensively to warrant the minutes. Relatedly, the Celtics lack of depth at guard scares me. Outside Rondo, Terry, and (possibly?) Courtney Lee, there are a lot of unproven youngsters.

·      Paul Pierce refuses to show his age. As the years go by, he only gets craftier. His array of start-and-stops, head fakes, and up-and-unders would make Kevin McHale proud. I think Pierce should play until he’s 50.

Continue reading "Celtics Thoughts"


Larry Hinders

Formula for Road Success Eludes the Wiz posted by Larry Hinders

When you are in the midst of a franchise-worst road losing streak, there are a few things a team must do to break out of its funk. The Wizards have one half of the game going in the right direction. Over the past few weeks, they have been holding their opponents under 100 points. It is at the offensive end that they have failed to heed the tried and true rules of NBA road success. Flip, guys, pay attention please. We’ll use today’s loss to the Pacers as a teachable moment.

Rule #1: Take quality shots

                                                  

On the road you can’t rely on jump shots.  To compete at unfriendly arenas, you must get quality shots, preferably in the paint, and get to the foul line with some frequency. Against the Pacers today, the Wiz shot 39% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. There were too many possessions during which the ball stopped in a Wizard player’s hands early in the shot clock and a long, often contested, jump shot was taken. The Pacers outscored the Wiz in the paint by 30 points.

The two players who were most at fault for the launching of ill-advised shots were the Wizards’ two most undisciplined players, Nick Young and Andray Blatche.  Young has been making an effort of late to play a complete game and expend energy at both ends. Blatche is playing the worst basketball of his career of late. He refuses to finish tough at the basket and seems to prefer off-balanced shots. These two starters must be brought in line for the road losing streak to come to an end.

Continue reading "Formula for Road Success Eludes the Wiz"

Larry Hinders

Five Reasons We Should Be Glad Gilbert Arenas Played for the Wiz posted by Larry Hinders

I side with those who believe that Gilbert’s move to sunny Orlando was in the best interest of the Wizards. His departure provides fans the opportunity to look back on the full impact of his time spent in the Nation’s Capital. Despite his hand in bringing our franchise to some of its lowest points ever, Gilbert’s overall impact on this team has been positive. Here’s why:

1.      A Lesson Learned

The Wizards invested a tremendous amount of money in Gilbert Arenas, a player they knew to be eccentric at best. When things went sour, the franchise was handcuffed because his contract was next to impossible to unload. Both Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld are bright guys. I have to believe that the Wizards will be reluctant to mortgage the team’s future to sign a player who is anything but a solid and dependable person.

2.      A Clean Slate

When Ted Leonsis took over control of this team last June, some of the house cleaning was already under way. The Wizards needed for Gilbert to move on so that the last chapter of an era that carried so much promise could finally closed. With Gilbert gone, Leonsis and the rest of the ownership team can build around John Wall, provided he can remain healthy, and shape the team that will hopefully return the Wizards to playoff contenders.Gil defined Wizards basketball, good and bad, for an era. His ability to do so made the transition to a new era easier.

3.      Washington as Superstar Pedestal

Continue reading "Five Reasons We Should Be Glad Gilbert ..."


Larry Hinders

Results are in from Wizards' Blatche Experiment posted by Larry Hinders

     The findings from the Washington Institute for Advance Roundball Research’s half-decade long Andray Blatche experiment are in; conclusive evidence indicates he is not worth the continued investment of time or money by the Wizards franchise. Blatche is nearly impossible for an NBA GM to resist. He puts up pretty solid numbers, has length and decent agility, and he is young despite having spent five years as a professional basketball player. Only close observation over a long period of time can reveal that his minuses outweigh his pluses.

     Blatche’s biggest problem is that he seems incapable of growing up. Each of the last two seasons the Wizards have sold Blatche as a young man who is ready to step up and assume a leadership role on the team. Instead the team has been fed a steady diet of immature behavior and selfish antics. Consider his history:

·         Charged with sexual solicitation in August of 2007

·         Arrested and charged with reckless driving and driving on a suspended license for the third time in June of 2008

·         Fined by the Wizards for involvement in the infamous “gun dance” incident in January of 2010

·         Later that same season Blatche refused to reenter a game when asked to do so by Flip Saunders

·         Enters the current season overweight and out of shape (Blatche was apparently unaware that some exercises do not require the use of injured feet)

Continue reading "Results are in from Wizards' Blatche Experiment"


john howard

New faces, early dividends posted by john howard

Dallas Mavericks' new players played well last night, beating the top team in the east in Orlando Magic.

Caron Butler and Brenden Haywood combined for 73 minutes 16 rebounds and 31 points.  A really good bigman and another scorer.  Good Job Dallas.

Another top team fell to newcomers.  Denver fell to Washington and their new lineup.  No Arenas, no Jamison, no Butler, no problem.  Josh Howard had 20 points in 23 minutes. More stunning was the 25 points the Wizards outscored the Nuggets in that 23 minutes.  Also, Al Thornton (just acquired from the Clippers) had 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 block shots in 31 minutes. Oh I can't wait until Ilgauskas joins the group. 

Expect Thornton and Howard to play with a chip on their shoulders, showing the teams that didn't want them that they were wrong. The Wizards have players that are auditioning for the big free agent bucks.  They are going to be competitive for the rest of the season.

Continue reading "New faces, early dividends"


john howard

Cleveland set for title run posted by john howard

Cleveland just got a lot better.   They traded Zydranus Ilgauskas and his 11million dollar expiring contract to Washington for Antwain Jamison who has the same salary.      This adds a power scorer to the lineup while giving up nothing.  Anderson Varejo has been the backup at both power forward and center. This will continue.  Hickson's minutes may decrease, but he is still developing so that is ok.  The first pick won't matter if they win the title.       Also acquired is Sebastian Telfair an up and down career since joining the NBA.  They have point guard injuries so that is an added bonus.

Washington continues to dump salary by trading for Ilgauskas. His 11 mil is the same as Jamison's but expires this year.  They also unloaded Drew Gooden whom they acquired from Dallas last week.  Washington gets Al Thornton who is young and improving. 

The Clippers continue to confuse.  They gave up Telfair for Drew Gooden?  Whatever.

Continue reading "Cleveland set for title run"


john howard

Mavs A Wizards--gambling posted by john howard

Dallas and Washington traded talent this week. 

First Dallas---they get Caron Butler an all star that is almost averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds.  He will replace Josh Powell which is a huge up grade.  Brendon Haywood also joins the Mavs.  This was a good move because Eric Dampier hasn't been effective since hurting his knee.  Haywood is averaging 10 rebounds a game.  The Mavs also get Deshaun Stevenson.  A decent backup.

Washington is clearing house by unloading contracts and gaining potential.  What kind of potential is the question.  Josh Howard averaged 19 points last year.  Injuries and attitudes have landed him on the bench with decreasing minutes.  He has potential to be the team's leading scorer.  Sorry to say that his behavior could land him sitting next to Gilbert Arenas.  I'm not sure this was  a good move.

Continue reading "Mavs A Wizards--gambling"


john howard

McGrady sweetstakes---Knicks? posted by john howard

Houston has been shopping Tracy McGrady all year and something is a about to happen.  The leading candidate is the New York Knicks.  McGrady could be a 20pt scorer again with the up tempo style of play New York has. I think he would be a perfect fit for them. 

A third team may have to be involved and latest rumor has the Wizards.  Houston might get Caron Butler from Washington and the Knicks would send much traveled Al Harrington to DC.  Sounds like a swapping of big salaries and not much improvement.  There will be other players involved and draft picks for sure.  But, the main thing is McGrady in the biggest market.  If he could stay healthy for any length of time, he could really profit well.  He might be enough of a surge to get them into the playoffs this year. 

Continue reading "McGrady sweetstakes---Knicks?"


Andy Charles

No place for guns in Washington posted by Andy Charles

As if things weren’t bad enough for the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton have now apparently decided that the locker room is the right place to show off their guns.

No, I am not talking about the size of their respective biceps, but I am referring to the weapons pulled in the locker room after an argument over a gambling debt got out of hand.

Guns? Gambling? Sounds like Arenas and Crittenton are trying to break all of the NBA’s strict rules in one fell swoop.

Although many of the reports last week made it sound like the new version of Gunfight At The OK Corral, and may well have been over-playing it, the fact that both players seemingly had unloaded firearms in their lockers is bad enough.

Only just over a year after Plaxico Burress managed to shoot himself in the thigh, firearms are back on the sports pages and both players may find themselves having to explain their actions to David Stern, with the chance of heavy fines and suspensions possibly following.

The incident could also be the perfect way for Washington to get out of the $100m+ deal they signed Arenas to before his two injury-plagued seasons.

But at least Agent Zero appears to be contrite, as he said: “Joke or not, I now recognize that what I did was a mistake and was wrong. I should not have brought the guns to DC in the first place, and I now realize that there’s no such thing as joking around when it comes to guns, even if unloaded.”

Is an apology going to work though? Seems strange to think it’s been so long since the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but this incident could be just as damaging to the sport – if the players escape lengthy bans they can definitely consider themselves a touch lucky.

Continue reading "No place for guns in Washington"


Chase Hughes

Thoughts on the Wizards: Are They Good? posted by Chase Hughes

   On Wednesday night I attended the Wizards game vs. Cleveland and it was great to see Washington come away with a win, especially in front of a legion of Cavalier fans (where they came from I don’t know).  While the Wizards were able to seize a victory against one of the best teams in the East and an immanent rival, it is still hard to ascertain whether this team is any good.  After a dreadful first half by just about every player on the team I was absolutely fuming in my seat.  It didn’t help to be transplanted in between a Cleveland fan who would say “terrible shot” during all of Antawn Jamison’s trick hooks and a Ohio family of six that probably amassed a total of 3,000 pounds.  The father of that Lebron-rooting herd fittingly donned a t-shirt with the slogan “I’m not going to call you stupid, but I’m thinking about it.” 
    The reality of this win is that without Antawn Jamison’s incredible shooting display in the first half, the Wizards would have never been in the game by the third quarter.  It’s also fact that the Cavaliers fell flat in the second half in an away game which they traveled following a game the night before.  Gilbert looked like he has no business running the offense and Caron didn’t seem himself until late in the game.  To be trite, it was a rollercoaster of emotions, that game, to go from the verge of catching a case to celebrating a win over Cleveland was a sweet turn of events. 
    There are some sincere positive areas to be observed from the Wizards at this point in the season, however, they did get their third win.  It looks like Earl Boykins is the true point guard they had been missing all along.  At this juncture it doesn’t look like either Gilbert or Randy Foye can be trusted to run the offense.  Gilbert still takes the long three sometimes before passing the ball once on a possession and Foye is struggling offensively in general. 

Continue reading "Thoughts on the Wizards: Are They Good?"

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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look atthe season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Wizards-Bulls Preview (Yahoo Sports)

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From Yahoo Sports

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