Oct 23, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives between Charlotte Bobcats point guard Cory Higgins (11) and point guard Kemba Walker (15) in the first half at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat (19-6) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7-20) December 26th

The Miami Heat have found their groove. They’ve won five straight after their victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it’s been a stretch of tough games that tested Miami at every turn. The defense still is intermittent but with new rotations and increasing comfort of new players and holdovers in new roles that should become a thing of the past. They have no time to rest on their laurels though, it’s a quick trip up to Charlotte to face a rebuilding project known as the Bobcats.

The Charlotte Bobcats are not a good team, but they’re a young team that hopes to grow every day, get a little better. With owner Michael Jordan taking a backseat in basketball decisions and allowing new general manager Rich Cho to build a contender, combined with the lack of talent, the Bobcats are a couple years from contending but at least they have a vision. So here’s to no more Kwame Browns.

Charlotte started the season 7-5 but have lost 15 straight, which makes you hope they could just lose everything and break the record they set last season. They’re a team a year older but still oto much better – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is going to be a great player, he tries too hard not to be, but right now he’s just a hustler and an energy guy. I think he’ll be a better player than Anthony Davis, but I’m a little crazy.

The Bobcats are 15th in attendance, impressive considering the performance they put in a season ago. That early season surge might have tricked a couple people into buying in, but not too far down the road putting butts in seats could be a real thing. They are putting try-hards and hustlers into the core of this team, which at its best with minimal talent can end up as the Chicago Bulls. That would be a nice goal to aim for.

What happened last time: Miami hosted the Bobcats last April 13th the Heat won 105-82 to bounce back from an overtime loss in Chicago the night before. None of the Big Three played more than 30 minutes and the Heat dominated all phases of the game. The new-departed Derrick Brown had a game high 21 for the Bobcats and Dexter Pittman had a nice run, 16 for Miami. The Heat shot 52% for the night to Charlotte’s 45%, and Miami outscored them in every quarter. It was an unremarkable game of two teams headed in opposite directions playing out the string. You just have to feel bad for the ‘Cats, they walked into a buzzsaw.

Who to watch for: Like I said before, the Bobcats are young. That can be a euphemism for crappy or undersized, but there’s actually a lot of potential here. If Kemba Walker were four inches taller he’d be a superstar, and he’s having a good season anyway. He leads the ‘Cats in scoring with 18.3 per game along with six assists and turns it over only twice. He has the heart of a champion, to recycle a hideous phrase, and really, he’s an all heart player that gives maximum effort. He might end up a star, or he might just have a long career as a solid role player, but he’ll stick around.

Their oldest impact player is Ben Gordon (how he ended up here is a mystery) and he gives almost 13 points in only 22 minutes, and with a young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (19) Bismack Biyombo (20, and he’s getting better, really) and even the addition of Ramon Sessions at an ancient 26, they’re on their way. Byron Mullens is turning into a solid pivot player in limited time, handing in 11 and 8 in about 23 minutes of work. His size could be an impetus for the Heat, unless they just run him over.

Why the Heat will win: The Bobcats are pretty terrible, and have a disadvantage at every position through either size or athleticism. There’s a sense with this team that they want to assert themselves as top dog again before the new year, so a crushing victory over a bottom feeder will be a good follow up to a big win over a contending rival.

Why the Heat will lose: It’s an away game, so you never know, and teams DO bring it against the defending champ. The Heat could be riding high from their big win against the Thunder and not take the Bobcats seriously. Maybe the entire team gets the flu. It could happen.

Prediction: Miami 106, Charlotte 90. It will look closer than it is because the bench gets put in and Norris Cole gets shot-happy and Dexter Pittman will act a fool. A lot of threes will fall for a little while for Walker and Co., followed by a clamp down by Miami and some garbage time. Hopefully it’s an ugly one.

Tags: Game Preview Miami Heat

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