Charlotte Hornets

Game 2 key for Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. LeBron James

Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was asked at practice Tuesday how best to ration Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s fouls while guarding Miami Heat superstar LeBron James.

Clifford turned the question inside-out, saying the solution is for Kidd-Gilchrist to stop fouling so much.

“That’s the challenge in guarding a great player,” Clifford said. “But part of playing great defense – and I consider him that good a defender – is watching his fouls.”

When he was in Sunday’s game, Kidd-Gilchrist had great success limiting James’ scoring. James was 1-of-5 from the field and 2-of-4 from the foul line for four points. But he wasn’t in the game long.

After starting at small forward, Kidd-Gilchrist played 14 minutes, 41 seconds Sunday: About nine in the first quarter, about 1 1/2 minutes in the second quarter and the rest in the third. Foul trouble – he committed four in that span – kept him on the bench much of the game.

James scored with ease in the roughly 24 minutes he played when Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t. In that span he generated 23 points off 7-of-11 shooting from the field. He got to the foul line six times, making five of those attempts.

Clifford’s alternatives to Kidd-Gilchrist guarding James are Gerald Henderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Neither has comparable strength or heft to the 6-foot-7, 232-pound Kidd-Gilchrist.

It would be tough for anyone to guard the 6-8, 250-pound James for long stretches without getting into foul trouble. But the Bobcats’ challenge in this playoff series, which continues Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena (7 p.m., TNT and SportSouth), is heightened by the absence of reserve forward-guard Jeff Taylor.

Taylor ruptured his right Achilles tendon in December, and though he is recovering well he won’t be ready to play until at least mid-summer.

At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, Taylor has the right body type to match up with James. He’s also one of the Bobcats’ better defenders. If he were available, Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor could essentially tag-team James game-to-game.

There’s a drop-off when Henderson or Douglas-Roberts is forced to guard James. In the case of Douglas-Roberts, James immediately heads for the post, maximizing his strength advantage.

Clifford said he plans to primarily use Henderson on James when Kidd-Gilchrist is out of the game Wednesday. But the best thing is for Kidd-Gilchrist to cut back on his Game 1 fouling.

Message received:

“I’m the man for this job. I know I’m the man for this job,” said Kidd-Gilchrist, who is fond of calling himself the Bobcats’ middle linebacker. “I just have to pick my spots (to be physically aggressive) with LeBron. I watch a lot of film of him.”

At least one of the fouls called against Kidd-Gilchrist looked pretty dubious. James appeared to throw a forearm at Kidd-Gilchrist to free himself on a drive to the rim. When the whistle blew, it was Kidd-Gilchrist – not James – called for the foul.

The Bobcats could try to give Kidd-Gilchrist some help at the defensive end, but that has its own pitfalls. One of James’ greatest strengths is his ability to anticipate on-coming double-teams and pass to open teammates.

As Clifford frequently said during a winless regular season (0-4) against the Heat, that’s what James tempts you to do. With capable complementary scorers such as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, James is happy to turn facilitator.

“We can help out a little bit, particularly digging the ball out (of James’ hands) in the post,” said power forward Josh McRoberts.

Ultimately, though, Clifford is right that this comes down to Kidd-Gilchrist defending efficiently enough to stay in the game more than 15 minutes.

“MKG played some tough defense on him. But great players make great plays,” said point guard Kemba Walker.

“He’s just got to be more careful. LeBron is really smart about going up-and-under guys’ arms (to draw shooting fouls). I think (Kidd-Gilchrist) is more conscious of that now.”

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