Charlotte likes to call itself the Queen City. So let’s keep this simple:
King trumps Queen.
The Heat superstar with the monarch’s nickname and ruler’s game is too much for the Charlotte Bobcats, seemingly by himself. LeBron James has been too much for the entire NBA the past two seasons, and he certainly is that for Miami’s opponent in the first round of these playoffs – and we saw it yet again here Wednesday night.
“You have to be honest with yourself,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford had said before Game 2. “Sometimes the other team is just that good.”
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Especially when the other team’s player is the best there is, and when he treats this particular opponent like his personal plaything.
Miami has a commanding 2-0 series lead with Wednesday’s 101-97 victory/escape, and it was mostly because James led the way with 32 points.
That was after he’d led the way in Game 1 with 27 points.
Which means that in six games against Charlotte this season James has now scored 210 points, an average of 35 per game.
And now the Bobcats may be dealing the rest of this series with the one player in the NBA who is even better than LeBron.
That would be LeBron, angry.
“I got elbowed in the throat,” he described it afterward. “It’s not a very good feeling.”
Just under a minute remained in Wednesday’s tighter-than-expected game – the 100th home playoff game in franchise history – when James drove to the basket and was floored by a hard, dirty foul by Charlotte’s Josh McRoberts. The referees did not call a flagrant foul, which replays suggested was an oversight nearly as flagrant as the foul itself.
McRoberts delivered a forearm high to LeBron’s upper chest/lower neck area, crumpling James to the hardwood, where for several seconds he stayed down, clutching his upper chest and grimacing.
“Just trying to catch my breath,” he said. “Hoping everything was alright.”
James would go on to sink two key free throws with 10.3 seconds left, but the flagrant foul-that-wasn’t angered the Heat.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra asked the officials for an explanation why a flagrant was not called. The explanation he was given?
“Nothing that seemed rational to me,” Spoelstra said, tersely.
McRoberts may yet face after-the-fact discipline when the NBA reviews the play on Thursday. He should be suspended for Game 3.
Maybe the assault on its best player is what the Heat needs to jar it into something approaching playoff intensity as the series moves now to Charlotte for Games 3 and 4 starting Saturday night.
Miami in two games has seemed to play down to the Bobcats, with Game 1 close until early in the fourth quarter and Game 2 seeing the Heat fritter away a 16-point lead and escape. Wednesday might have seen the upset of the postseason thus far if not for Dwyane Wade’s steal with 1.2 seconds left.
“That instinctual cat-quickness,” Spoelstra described Wade’s play.
The Bobcats had fled Miami and the temptations of South Beach and returned home between the first two games of this series, a nearly unheard-of travel itinerary so that their young players might avoid the waiting debauchery of SoBe nightlife and maintain their focus.
The back-and-forth trip was so unusual that Clifford, the coach, made a joke if it before Wednesday’s game.
“And we’re not staying here tonight, either,” he said, unsolicited. “We’re going home.”
The question now is whether they’ll be back again.
Charlotte will have to win at least one of the next two games at home to return the series to Miami. I still give the Heat a great chance to win the next two on the road and sweep – especially if that hard foul on LeBron is the impetus for an all-round intensified effort.
Miami has now beaten Charlotte 18 consecutive games including six this season, but the first two games of this series have not seen the Heat’s best efforts. You wonder if the series might be 1-1 right now, with Heats fans wringing hands and kvetching, if Bobcats center and leading scorer Al Jefferson wasn’t struggling on an injured left foot.
Spoelstra, to his credit, has spent the past week talking up the Bobcats and how this opening series would be tough, and Wednesday made him look smart.
He chafed at a postgame question referring to how most fans expected lopsided Heat wins.
“No, that’s absurd,” he said. “Not in the playoffs. And we expect a dogfight when we go up to Charlotte.”
The Heat, in search of a three-peat coming off its worst regular season of the four-year-old Big 3 era, likes to say what Wade reiterated before Wednesday’s game:
“We’re built for this time of year,” he’d said.
Consecutive championships give a team the right to declare that.
But consecutive far-from-dominant victories over the major-underdog Charlotte Bobcats makes one wonder a little bit.
“We can play better,” summarized James.
Now might be a decent time to start.