After coming away with a victory in an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas Day, the Miami Heat get to treat themselves to a tuneup game tonight. The team will head just north to Charlotte to face the Bobcats, a young and inexperienced team that set the NBA record for futility last season.
The Bobcats finished 2011-12 with a 7-59 record, worst in league history. They appeared to be somewhat back on track this season under new coach Mike Dunlap, starting the season 7-5. Since then, fate has reared its ugly head.
The Bobcats have lost 15 games in a row, and it will take nothing short of a miracle for them to defeat the defending champion Heat. The team just looks lost now, and the lack of a veteran leader isn't helping them.
Fortunately, it's just one day after Christmas and there's still room for some miracles. Despite possessing so many flaws, Charlotte does indeed have some strengths, particularly point guard Kemba Walker. He has broken out this year and is slowly becoming the leader of the team, though he still has a lot to learn.
If he can get off to a good start and his teammates rally behind him, then the Bobcats just may have a fighting chance against the Heat. It'll take hard work and focus, but it just might work on Charlotte's part.
Time: Wednesday, December 26th, 7:00 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, SportSouth Charlotte
Records: Miami Heat (19-6) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7-20)
Betting Line: Miami (-10), Charlotte (+10), via Bovada
Injuries: Ben Gordon (knee, doubtful), Gerald Henderson (shin, day-to-day), Byron Mullens (ankle, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Bobcats Pull Off Upset Against Defending Champions?
On paper, the Miami Heat should have this game in the bag. However, it is the day after Christmas, so one must consider the holiday hangover effect.
After all, Miami just did pull out a hard-fought victory in an NBA Finals rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was an emotional game, and the players don't even have time to fully digest it before stepping back on the court 24 hours later. With such a quick turnaround, there is always the chance of fatigue.
This is why the Bobcats must be fully locked in from start to finish tonight. They will likely be short-handed due to injuries, which makes it all the more important that they play well as a unit.
Charlotte has some fine players in point guard Kemba Walker and rookie Jeffery Taylor, and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is also starting to come into his own. Each of these youngsters must step up and be ready to be the go-to guy in the event of a close game, which won't be at all easy against a tough Miami team.
An upset is definitely possible, but it's going to be an uphill battle for Charlotte from start to finish.
Key Matchup: Kemba Walker vs. Mario Chalmers
Kemba Walker is the Bobcats' point guard, and he also happens to be their best offensive threat. In just his second NBA season, the former UConn star is averaging 18.3 points, six assists and 1.9 steals per game. His shot selection has improved tremendously, and Walker is shooting 43 percent from the field.
Charlotte needs him to be great tonight in order to have even a remote shot at beating Miami, and that means he must win his battle with Miami point man Mario Chalmers. For those who have watched Chalmers in recent years, getting past his defense is a task that would give Hercules himself some trouble.
Chalmers is averaging just 7.1 points and 3.6 assists per game this season, but he is not in the starting lineup to put up big offensive numbers. Rather, he is on the floor for his pesky defense, which has led to 1.6 steals per contest this season.
Miami likely knows that Charlotte will be relying on Walker to be the anchor of the Bobcats' offense tonight, so head coach Erik Spoelstra will have drawn up plans that call for Chalmers to cover him like Guy Fieri covers excellent hole-in-the-wall eateries. Translation, his defense on Walker will be smothering.
Walker will simply need to fight past Chalmers' defense, no matter how tempted he is to give up and let fate take over. He is so good at driving the lane and drawing fouls, and he also creates his own shot better than most NBA point guards. After all, one of the defining moments of his basketball career was him doing just that.
Chalmers will thus need to do his best to contain Walker. Charlotte's offense starts and stops with its young point guard, and some pesky defense could be just the recipe to fully take him out of the game.
X-Factor: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the NBA's youngest player, having turned just 19 years old in September, but he has performed fairly well in his first season in the league. The former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 11 points per game, and has also done his fair share on defense by collecting six rebounds a night. Kidd-Gilchrist has also done a fine job of limiting his turnovers, averaging less than two per contest.
With Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens likely out due to injuries, the Bobcats will need their rookie to shine. Unfortunately, that may be wishful thinking on their part. Kidd-Gilchrist has shot 50 percent from the field for the season, but look at his shot chart. His jumper still needs a lot of work and a majority of his offense comes in the restricted area.
That's not a bad thing in terms of drawing fouls, as getting one or multiple members of Miami's Big Three into early foul trouble could prove to make the difference down the stretch. However, like the Bobcats, the Heat like to play a run-and-gun game. The only difference between the two is that the Heat can actually make their jump shots and threes consistently, ranking at or near the top in both categories while the Bobcats nearly scrape the bottom of the barrel.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still young and has plenty of time to develop his jumper, but tonight he must be a bit more tenacious on the outside. Rather than rely on driving to the hoop for a layup or dunk, he needs to take risks and utilize his mid-range game.
It's a big risk, but what if it works? The Bobcats will have thus found a new weapon in their offensive arsenal, particularly one that will help them succeed down the stretch.
Kidd-Gilchrist must simply be confident against Miami tonight, and his performance in being so could be enough for an upset.
The Bobcats and their fans would love to see the team's losing streak end tonight, but it's just not going to happen. Miami is too deep, talented and experienced to lose to such a young team, and the team's defense over the past five games has been too good to allow any team past the power of the Big Three.
Kemba Walker will be the face of Charlotte's offense, but he will have a poor shooting night thanks to the defense of Chalmers. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will experiment with his jumper, but not nearly enough to keep the Bobcats in the game from start to finish.
Instead, Miami will be in full control throughout the game.
Who will win?
LeBron James will have a triple-double and both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will finish in double figures. Ray Allen will provide some excellent shooting off the bench and should hit double scoring figures.
Charlotte will give a great effort, but their inexperience will prove to be their undoing. The Heat are the defending champion for a reason, and they will have plenty of momentum entering this game after defeating the Thunder on Christmas Day.
By the final buzzer, they will have handily won their sixth game in a row, and Charlotte will have lost its 16th straight.
Miami Heat 110, Charlotte Bobcats 93