CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The Charlotte Bobcats have likely earned some respect around the NBA after hanging tough with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
But the Bobcats want more.
”I think we know that we can challenge these guys and win,” Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker said on Friday. ”We’re still confident as a team.”
Still, it would be a tall task to beat the Heat in one game, let alone a best-of-seven series.
The Bobcats find themselves in a 2-0 hole as the series shifts to Charlotte for Game 3 on Saturday night.
That’s pretty much where everyone expected them to be after two games in Miami. The inexperienced Bobcats entered the series with four starters that had never started a playoff game, compared to a Heat team that has enough championship rings to open a jewelry store.
But the past two games have been surprisingly competitive.
Charlotte led early in Game 1 before losing by 11. The Bobcats had a chance to send Game 2 into overtime Wednesday night but Dwyane Wade came up with a steal in the final seconds to seal Miami’s 18th straight victory over Charlotte.
The Bobcats have played tough despite center Al Jefferson being hobbled by a strained plantar fascia in his left foot since the first quarter of Game 1.
Jefferson says he’ll play Saturday night, but he isn’t close to 100 percent. He participated in Saturday morning’s around and says his injured left foot feels ”about the same” as it did before Game 2.
”Miami is a great team,” Walker said. ”They are the defending champions, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy from the get go. … We fought hard, but at the same time we feel like it shouldn’t have come down to those late-game situations. There are so many mistakes we made over the course of the game that we probably could have been up.”
Charlotte hasn’t hosted a playoff game in four years, and Miami star LeBron James is expecting a ”very challenging” game.
”Their team is very desperate because they know they can’t go down 3-0,” James said. ”So we have to come in with the mindset that we want to win Game 3, not go up 3-0. We’re not going there for a sweep. We’re going there to win Game 3, and then we’ll worry about what comes after that.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra knows the Heat can’t make a mistake by taking the Bobcats lightly.
”As you’re seeing across the league in the playoffs, anything can happen right now,” Spoelstra said. ”Momentum from one game doesn’t guarantee you anything. We need a more complete, consistent game.”
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said he isn’t satisfied with moral victories.
He thinks his team can – and will – play better in Game 3.
”That is what we have to be thinking about – what it takes to win in the playoffs,” Clifford said.
Clifford said the Bobcats need to protect the ball better, play more disciplined defense, and minimize the foul discrepancy from the first two games. Miami has attempted 55 free throws to Charlotte’s 31.
Strangely, Jefferson hasn’t attempted a free throw in the series. Clifford said that is partly because he is limited in what he can do on offense due to the painful foot injury.
The Bobcats did a better job of driving the ball to the basket in Game 2, particularly second-year small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with 22 points.
There is the potential for Saturday night’s game to get a little Heated.
Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts delivered an elbow to the throat of James as he drove in for a layup in the final minute of Game 2. McRoberts walked away unremorseful as James sat on the floor holding his throat.
Officials didn’t review the play, but on Thursday the NBA fined McRoberts $20,000 for ”making unnecessary and excessive contact.”
Spoelstra and some Heat players were outspoken Friday about the play, saying the flagrant foul should have been called on the floor.
”If it was the `80s, then I’d come up swinging,” James said. ”But it’s not the 80s.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.