The soon to be Hornets are one of the best success stories of the season, making the playoffs for only the second time in their existence on the strength of Al Jefferson’s offense and a revamped defense. Their reward is a brutal first round series against the defending champs and assurances that they won’t have to play in May.
Jefferson has put the offense on his back since arriving in the offseason. Everything revolves around his post ups on the left block. Charlotte likes to have the ball entered to him there while the power forward (usually Josh McRoberts, but also Cody Zeller recently) hangs out on the left wing. Various other actions take place off the ball, often designed to get cuts for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is an awful jump shooter and needs to use backdoor cuts to add value on offense. The rest of the perimeter players – Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour (and McRoberts) – can spot up for threes around the post up, and the Bobcats have managed to make their offense respectable with this strategy.
The main alternative they use is the pick and roll, usually with Walker handling the ball and one of the forwards screening. They like to set these up on the left wing, so Jefferson will wander over to the right block or elbow to clear a little room. The Heat will be able to ramp up their intensity from “we just won two championships and the rest of the conference sucks” to “ridiculous” on defense now that the playoffs are here, and having to hide a player like Kidd-Gilchrist will hurt Charlotte’s ability to make them pay for overhelping on Jefferson.
The Bobcats have relied heavily on their 6th ranked defense to rack up wins, but even that has some Miami-specific holes. MKG has played well on that end, but LeBron James has owned him in their matchups this year, including a 61 point game against him in March. Gerald Henderson can do a decent job on Dwyane Wade, but may get pulled away due to help duties a decent amount.
On the inside, Jefferson’s shortcomings have been covered up in part by allowing him to remain near the rim instead of chasing opponents around the perimeter. Chris Bosh can upend that scheme thanks to his ability to step away from the basket. Bosh demands that defenders follow him – he’s hitting over 48% between 10-23 feet this season. Jefferson can hide out on Udonis Haslem or Chris Andersen if they’re in the game, but the Heat might want to consider playing small to eliminate that possibility.
Either way, the Bobcats aren’t likely to win more than one game in this series, if they can manage that. Miami just has to hope that they can get through the series fairly quickly and avoid any injuries. As for Charlotte, they can only hope to record the first playoff win in franchise history and enjoy the strong improvements they have made. They are a few important pieces away from making any sort of meaningful impact on the Eastern Conference playoff picture.