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2010 NBA Playoffs: Can Charlotte Defeat the East's Top Three Teams?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 18, 2010

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 15:  Stephen Jackson #1 celebrates with teammates D.J. Augustin #14 and Gerald Wallace #3 of the Charlotte Bobcats during their game against the San Antonio Spurs at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 15, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I will be the first to admit, the idea of the Charlotte Bobcats qualifying for the 2010 NBA postseason was a foreign one to me, and even though I felt the Bobcats had taken positive steps, the playoffs still seemed like a long shot.

Hiring Larry Brown as coach was the first step, and acquiring Stephen Jackson has proved to be the move which has spurred Charlotte from the throes of mediocrity to the cusp of their first NBA playoff berth in team history.

The young, athletic Bobcats have bought into Brown's defensive philosophy, and the level of discipline the team displays is also a reflection of their coach and his rigid standards on the court.

Brown doesn't mind if a player has baggage in his personal life, because he feels if discipline is learned on the basketball court, then it might seep over into a player's personal life.

Brown's approach has had varying degrees of success, but he has always established open lines of communication with his team, and is not afraid to both encourage and admonish a player for his performance.

He is the ultimate teacher and the Bobcats have grown into apt pupils, grasping onto Brown's instruction and riding it to the sixth position in the Eastern Conference.

With only a few weeks left in the regular season people in Charlotte are now speaking as if the Bobcats' path to the postseason is sealed, and the only question now is, how far can they go once they get there.

This may be a presumptuous line of thought, but considering how the teams beneath Charlotte in the standings are actually regressing, it is easy to see why people in the Queen City are excited about their basketball team.

If the season ended today Charlotte's first round opponent would be the Atlanta Hawks, a team with a very similar roster to the Bobcats'.

Both teams have superior shooting guards in Jackson and Atlanta's Joe Johnson, while Charlotte's Gerald Wallace and the Hawks' Josh Smith are both players whose impact can be felt in nearly every category in the stat book.

Mike Bibby has an experience advantage over Raymond Felton at the point guard position, but Felton is athletically superior, a better defender, and is quicker than Bibby.

Both rosters are deep with talented players like Al Horford, Marvin Williams, and Jamal Crawford for Atlanta, and Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas, and Tyson Chandler for Charlotte.

Crawford is the one player Charlotte cannot match in terms of point production from the bench, and although Crawford may give the Hawks a scoring edge, the Bobcats' discipline could be the determining factor in a playoff series.

Atlanta is notorious for their inconsistency on both ends of the floor and their tendency to make bad decisions in pressure-filled moments, which are found in abundance in the postseason.

I would be inclined to take the steady leadership of Brown over the playoff experience of Atlanta, because in a close series, the composure and discipline Brown brings to his team will win out.

If Charlotte were to defeat Atlanta, Orlando would likely be their next opponent, and the Magic cause the same type of match-up problems for the Bobcats as they did for the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year's postseason.

The Orlando scheme is simple, but effective. Place Dwight Howard in the paint, and surround him on the perimeter with jump shooters who have a particular taste for the three-point shot.

Having four perimeter players on the court makes it hard to double Howard in the paint, and the fact that all of those players are actually good scorers mean there is little chance to slide down or even offer token assistance against Howard.

The only chance Charlotte would have against Orlando would be to offer strong resistance on Howard with one player and tighten up the perimeter on everyone else.

This strategy worked in a recent game between the two teams, and while Howard did have a monster game with 27 points and 17 rebounds, Charlotte's defense on the rest of the Magic was effective enough to prevent anyone else from hurting them.

I'm not sure this would work over the duration of a seven game series, but it does represent Charlotte's best chance for success against a seasoned Orlando team, seeking consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

If the Bobcats could make the Magic disappear, the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers would be next in Charlotte's path, and you could pretty much throw out Charlotte's victory in the regular season series.

Like the recent victory over Orlando, Charlotte has a blueprint for how to defeat LeBron and his Cavaliers, but making that strategy hold up over the course of a seven game series is an entirely different task.

Cleveland lost last season's 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, and the experience has made them hungry for a chance to return to that stage and redeem themselves.

The Cavaliers also have the game's most complete player in James, and he embraces pressure moments on the big stage, while the Bobcats would be new to the whole playoff phenomenon.

If Charlotte were able to somehow defeat Orlando and Atlanta, this is the point that their hypothetical journey would likely end, because the Cavaliers' combination of experience and James would be too much to overcome.

In all honesty, it is doubtful Charlotte would be able to surpass Orlando, and if they did defeat Atlanta that feat would leave them ill-prepared for the tasks ahead, because they would likely become trapped in the moment.

Charlotte hasn't had an NBA playoff game in years, and this Bobcats' team has given the city hope that a future postseason game is in the near future.

Under those circumstances one can be forgiven for dreaming a little when it comes to postseason upsets, and who knows, once the playoffs begin anything is possible, right?

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