Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats series preview

History says the Miami Heat should have little trouble disposing of the Charlotte Bobcats in the first-round of the NBA playoffs.

The Heat have beaten the Bobcats 16 straight times, going 15-0 with the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

The past few weeks, however, warn of  a different outcome. Miami went 11-14 during its final 25 regular-season games. Charlotte finished with a 16-6 mark, including wins over playoff teams Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and Washington.

The Bobcats counter Miami’s Big Three with their own Dangerous Duo of center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker.

Charlotte (43-39, third in Southeast Division) clearly has made great strides this season under first-year coach Steve Clifford.

SEASON SERIES

Heat 97, Bobcats 81 (Nov. 16 at Charlotte)

James scored 30 points to help Miami earn its 13th straight victory in the series. The Heat were without Mario Chalmers (suspended) and Ray Allen (flu). Bosh was limited due to foul trouble. Wade scored four points in 23 minutes.

Heat 99, Bobcats 98 (Dec. 1 at Miami)

Bosh scored 13 straight Miami points, including three 3s, late in the fourth quarter. James scored 26 points, Bosh had 22 and Wade added 17. The Bobcats outscored Miami 25-14 in the third quarter and led by 14 points before Miami scored 34 points in the final 8:20.

Heat 104, Bobcats 96, OT (Jan. 18 at Charlotte)

Despite missing nine consecutive shots at one point, James scored 34 points to lead Miami. Bosh added 25 points. Charlotte’€™s Walker sprained his left ankle midway through the third quarter and did not return. Wade did not play.

Heat 124, Bobcats 107 (March 3 at Miami)

James scored a career-high 61 points. He hit 22 of 33 shots, including his first eight 3-point attempts. Charlotte’s Jefferson had 38 points and 19 rebounds.

FRONTCOURT MATCHUP

Small forward James (27.1 ppg., 6.9 rpg, 6.4 apt.) and power forward Bosh (16.2 ppg., 6.6 rpg.) have been joined in recent weeks by Udonis Haslem, whose defense on Jefferson (21.8 ppg., 10.8 rpg.) will be key. Haslem (3.8 ppg., 3.8 rpg.) played only 5 minutes, 10 seconds during Jefferson’s big game in the last meeting.

PF Josh McRoberts (8.5 ppg., 4.8 rpg,) and SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (7.2 ppg., 5.2 rpg.) fill out the Bobcats front line.

Charlotte has been unable to stop James, and not just in his 61-point performance. Kidd-Gilchrist will need help in denying James, but too much concern about LeBron could leave open other Heat players.

Bosh, who was more concerned with Jefferson last time, might try to exploit McRoberts in the post as well as with the outside game.

Photo gallery

BACKCOURT MATCHUP

Walker (17.7 ppg., 6.1 apt.) and shooting guard Gerald Henderson (14.0 ppg.) will go against Mario Chalmers and Wade.

Walker’s quickness and ability to drive could be problematic, so Chalmers’ defense will be tested. If the Heat point guard has difficulty defending Walker, or if he gets in foul trouble, Norris Cole or Toney Douglas will be called upon.

Henderson will have his hands full going against a healthy Wade, who when on top of his game will help James and Bosh get open looks.

BENCH

Chris "Birdman" Andersen (6.6 ppg., 5.3 rpg.) will spell Haslem and get time battling Jefferson. There’s also a chance 7-foot Greg Oden (2.9 ppg., 2.3 rpg.) could see some minutes, too.

Ray Allen (9.6 ppg.) finished the season strong, and Shane Battier (4.1 rpg.), who plans to retire following the postseason, is not ready walk off just yet.

Cole (6.4 ppg.) has been up-and-down during the second half, but Douglas (4.2 ppg.) offered steady play after arriving in January.

The Bobcats signed swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts (6.9 ppg.) after forward Jeffrey Taylor was lost to an Achilles’ tendon injury. Charlotte went 18-9 after acquiring former San Antonio Spurs forward Gary Neal. Center Cody Zeller (6.0 ppg., 4.3 rpg.), forward Anthony Tolliver (6.1 ppg.), and guard Luke Ridnour (4.0 ppg.) also will see time.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

— Expect hard-fought, relatively low-scoring games. Charlotte was fourth in the league in defense allowing 97.1 points per game. Miami was fifth at 97.4.

— The Heat ranked second in forcing 16.7 turnovers per game, The Bobcats were 28th, forcing 13.3 — something that could be good news for Miami, which gave away the ball too much down the stretch.

— Neither team does its best work off the boards. Miami was last in rebounding (36.9 rpg.), while Charlotte was 15th (42.7).  Both teams were weak on the offensive boards — Miami (7.6, last), Charlotte (9.5, 25th)

FINAL THOUGHT

The Heat should defeat the Bobcats in four or five games. A longer series would indicate Miami’s late-season struggles have lingered, and could be an ominous sign heading forward.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.