The Big Picture: Remember when the Miami Heat were struggling? Yeah, that didn't last. I'm still not convinced that their lack of interior defense won't be a problem in the playoffs, but there really isn't anything non-elite teams like the Bobcats can do to deal with them other than shoot the lights out, like the Warriors did for one half on New Year's Day.
The Heat have won 17 of their last 18, and 12 of those were by double digits. Obviously, I hope the Cats pull this one out, shutting out LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the process. However, I also acknowledge that it will take extraordinary effort to win the game.
Which again leads us to the Bobcats' central dilemma: Do they commit this season to finding out what their heretofore underused youngsters can do with core-rotation minutes? Do they continue down the same general path of trying to make the playoffs by allocating greater-than-normal minutes to veterans? Or do they attempt to balance both pursuits?
All of that is complicated by Gerald Wallace's injury issues, and Tyrus Thomas's return from injury. They need to play to get back to who they were before getting hurt, and balancing those needs with younger guys' playing time isn't necessarily an easy task.
Musical Interlude: White Stripes -- "Icky Thump"
Key to Victory: The Heat have been winning on the strength of their defense. What I missed at the beginning of the season was just how good Miami's perimeter on-ball defense was, since both James and Wade are First Team All-Defense types, and how their skills would actually make up for a lot of their weakness on the inside. That said, the Cats are fairly well-structured to attack the Heat's D.
First, Crash has to be in good enough shape to go right at LeBron. For all of James's gifts, Wallace has the size and strength to, at least, challenge him by driving to the rim. Doing anything else plays into LeBron's hands, because trying to go around him is futile, and settling for jumpers is exactly what he wants, since misses allow him to get out in transition that much faster.
Second, Stephen Jackson is taller and longer than Wade, just as he's taller and longer than most other shooting guards in the league. While I'm sure it can be argued that taking more threes is a superior strategy if one is going to take as many shots as Jax does, I'm still often amazed that he doesn't post up his man more. The Ray Allens and Kirk Hinrichs and even Dwyane Wades of the world simply don't have the size to deal with Jax on the block. And Jack has the post skills to make them pay! He's a fine passer and has some crafty moves, so I'd love to see him setting up there more.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Zydrunas Ilgauskas played 82 games his first season in the NBA. Then, he played only 29 games over the next three seasons. But at age 26, he came back almost as good as he'd been his rookie year, and then put up four All-Star seasons. Those were followed by three more very good seasons. In other words, Big Z's early injury troubles, and then his time in LeBron's shadow, may have obscured his excellent career from casual basketball fans.