Conventional wisdom is that the first-round series between the Charlotte Bobcats and Miami Heat was over before it started. Faced with an 0-2 deficit after two valiant efforts, we just might have to admit that conventional wisdom had it right.
It's a shame, too. These Bobcats are better than advertised. They've played the Heat pretty well, all things considered. And by "all things," we chiefly mean all the reasons that Miami is a far superior club at the moment—superior to Charlotte, superior to most of the league. Through two games, Charlotte's made runs and kept both contests close for long stretches.
This series probably hasn't been as one-sided as many expected, and the Bobcats deserve all the credit for that.
LeBron James is averaging 29.5 points per game so far. Dwyane Wade looks healthy, scoring 23 points in Game 1. Chris Bosh had 20 points in Game 2. The Big Three are doing all the things we expected them to do, preventing the Bobcats from gaining any traction in spite of their seemingly inspired play.
After a first-round playoff knockout in 2010 at the hands of the Orlando Magic, it took the Charlotte Bobcats four seasons, dozens of players, four coaches and two general managers to get back to the postseason. And it definitely got worse before it got better — in 2011-12, the Bobcats won just .109 percent of their games, a record for futility. Two seasons later the Bobcats finished with 44 wins and a rosy outlook: The Bobcats have both youth and cap flexibility on their side. Of course, having a bright future is cold comfort when you’re down 0-2 to the defending NBA champs, and have lost 18 games in a row to the Heat.
Per Whitaker, Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker said the team is "still really confident" after Game 2, and he has to say that. Charlotte has to keep believing. That's a big part of what's gotten it this far.
We should know better, though.
This series was over before it began. Sure, it's entirely within the realm of possibility that Charlotte wins a game. It has kept games close enough to earn that much belief. But only that much belief.
By the Bobcats standards, we've seen them play about as good as they're going to play against the Heat. We've seen them throw their best punch.
And it still missed.
With Al Jefferson hobbling, any outside chance this team had of pulling an upset has officially been eliminated. Jefferson can still make contributions, but can he carry this team? Probably not.
The other big question is whether Charlotte can turn its defense up a notch. The Heat have shot the ball well in both contests—46.1 percent in Game 1, 52.2 percent in Game 2. Given the Bobcats' offensive limitations, they simply can't allow that kind of efficiency. Through the first two games, Charlotte's given up a combined 200 points, raising its scoring bar far too high.
This is supposed to be a defense-first club, the kind that beats you with a deliberate pace, valued possessions and lots of intensity.
Charlotte held opponents to just 97.1 points per game this season, good for fourth league-wide. It's the philosophy that head coach Steve Clifford brings to the table. CBS Sports' Matt Moore reminds us of his accomplishments on the defensive end since the New York Knicks first hired him from the college ranks as an assistant:
Clifford would go on to help mold great defenses in the NBA over the next 12 seasons. Between 2004 and 2013, nine of the ten teams he worked as an assistant for would have a top-15 defense in points allowed per possession, six in the top five. He worked under both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy, and helped coach Dwight Howard to become the Defensive Player of the Year multiple times.
It's Clifford's defense that's caught owner Michael Jordan's attention. In February, he told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, "Steve has come in and quickly established an identity and a style of play for our team—hard-working, defensive-minded, playing inside-out basketball."
In short, this is supposed to be a team modeled after the Chicago Bulls or Memphis Grizzlies, a slow, grind-it-out operation that beats you through 48 minutes of struggle. This is not a team that's supposed to give up 100 points per game, especially in the postseason when pace is oft to slow down anyway.
You could look for intricate Xs and Os explanations, but you really don't have to.
Good defense can only go so far in stopping players of James' caliber, in stopping a three-pronged attack that makes it so difficult to zero-in on any single threat. The Bobcats are simply overmatched by talent, confronting Death-Star-sized odds that leave little room for optimism among any objective observers.
How many more points can the Bobcats realistically expect to score? Given the improbability of shutting Miami down, that's the question we have to ask ourselves.
Walker is averaging 18 points through the first two games, basically on par with his regular-season contributions. You'd like to see him shooting the ball a little better (just 33 percent so far in the postseason), but Charlotte would need some career performances from their young star to really make a dint in this series. That's probably not going to happen, not this time around anyway.
Al Jefferson is heroically battling through injury, but it could be taking an unsustainable toll. He made just nine of 23 field goals in Game 2, perhaps demonstrating that the pain in his foot (on account of a torn plantar fascia) is just too much for him to bear.
Jefferson managed to score 18 points despite the rough night from the field, but again, the Bobcats need more efficient efforts from their stars. They need virtual perfection.
The reality is that Charlotte's regular-season average of 96.9 points per game ranked 23rd in the league. That's not going to be nearly good enough against a defense that's pretty sound in its own right.
The Heat are coasting right now. Not quite sleep-walking through the series, but coasting for sure. They aren't giving anything away, but nor are they exerting the kind of energy they might against more elite opposition.
That's not a knock on the Bobcats. It's just a testament to Miami's unreal ability to flip switches when necessary to preserve themselves in a series that shouldn't really be that taxing. To the extent these games have been close, credit Charlotte—but also understand that the Heat could do better if they absolutely had to.
Come Game 3 or 4, they may have to do just that. But they'll also be ready to do just that.