The series of opening games in the NBA playoffs continues, with the Eastern conference showcasing the NBA champions playing against the Charlotte Bobcats and a much more potentially closer encounter between the Washington Wizards and the Chicago Bulls.
It’s been a rough finish to the season for the Heat, mostly playing without Dwyane Wade. Erik Spoelstra keeps changing the rotations, LeBron James isn’t sure of whether to try and be like Kevin Durant or himself, and it seems like a confident yet coasting group for most of the season is simply struggling at this point, winning only 11 games of their final 25 to enter the postseason. Luckily for them, the Bobcats might be just what the doctor ordered.
James scored a career high 61 points against the Bobcats this season, a team the Heat have beaten four times. He is averaging 37.8 points, 60 rebounds, 5.5 assists on 63% from the field against Charlotte this season. Yes, they have a very good defense and a team that can hurt you in more than one way, but if they can’t contain James no matter who and how they’re guarding him, it means this is going to be a rough hurdle for the Bobcats to overcome.
Al Jefferson might be the key for Charlotte – he has dominated in games against the Heat, averaging 25.3 points in three encounters. However, beating Miami usually involves keeping them in half court offense and making them chase you along the perimeter, hitting 3’s in high percentages, not exactly Charlotte’s specialty. They’re going to need that kind of special effort to steal home court advantage.
In Chicago, it’s going to be the Bulls and the Wizards in a #4 vs #5 matchup, which usually means a six or seven game series. The Wizards hold the 2-1 edge in the season series, but Chicago beat Washington by 18 points when the teams last met, and showed that when their defense is in full effect, like you expect to see from a team in the playoffs, it’s going to be very hard for Washington to look good against.
John Wall needs to have a big series. Not necessarily scoring 30-35 points a night, but acting like a real point guard, which he usually does. That means forcing Noah, Gibson and Boozer to move away from Nene and Gortat, which will help the Wizards try and win the battle down low. The Wizards’ strength is in the two big men, but facing the Bulls’ interior defense isn’t a walk in the park.
It’ll be interesting to see who Jimmy Butler guards. Some think he is already the best perimeter defender in the NBA, but we need a bigger sample size for that. Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and probably some minutes on John Wall as well will give us a better indication if the Bulls have truly found themselves another All-NBA caliber stopper on the wings, giving them another edge in a series they’re slightly favored to win.