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RealGM's Playoff Predictions

Here are the playoffs predictions from eight of RealGM's writers.

Christopher Reina (@CR_Reina)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

The wear and tear of reaching The Finals in each season since the formation of the Big 3 will finally catch up with the Heat against the Thunder. Kevin Durant and LeBron James will be as brilliant as expected in this series, but it will come down to how healthy and effective Russell Westbrook is compared to Dwyane Wade, along with how stubborn Scott Brooks is with his rotations. With superstars potentially moving around again this offseason, this could be the last best shot for Oklahoma City.

Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat. Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Unseating the two-time reigning champions is difficult, but Oklahoma City has the likely MVP and a motivation that still permeates from its defeat in The Finals last season. The Heat's health also could be put into jeopardy this late into a fourth straight run to the championship series.

Jonathan Tjarks (@JonathanTjarks)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Raptors, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Heat

Conference Finals: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Heat

Miami still has the best player in the world and they've done a much better job of managing Wade's minutes in the regular season. Watch out for Greg Oden and Michael Beasley - I could see both playing a huge role at certain points in the playoffs. 

Daniel Leroux (@DannyLeroux)

First Round Winners: Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls

Second Round Winners: Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, Heat 

Conference Finals Winners: Spurs, Heat 

Finals Winner: Heat

This year is challenging because I feel the Spurs are the best team, but Miami has the twin benefits of being more likely to make the Finals due to a weaker conference and having the best player in the world will of course prove valuable should they make it. Health will be a major factor and it would make sense for it to hit the Heat due to their age but that does not trump their other advantages in my mind.

Andrew Perna (@Andrew_Perna)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Blazers, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Thunder

Finals Winner: Thunder

Durant will best LeBron as the league’s MVP and deal another blow by preventing the Heat from three-peating in June. Oklahoma City will have two of the best three players in the Finals, which will be the determining factor even if Miami has three of the top five.

Sam Yip (@SamYip_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although Miami has been on top of the basketball world for two straight seasons, San Antonio's roster along with their improved bench will likely dethrone the defending champions. The Spurs were one Tim Duncan layup away from winning their first title since 2007 last season. The new 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format will give the Spurs an edge with their home court advantage.

Benjamin Cantor (@BenCantor_NBA)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Nets, Bulls, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Heat, Spurs

Finals Winner: Spurs

Although the Thunder have given the Spurs trouble in the past, Popovich always seems to have a way to adjust to opponents who have beaten him in the past. Last year, many people thought the Grizzlies might give the Spurs trouble because of what happened in 2011, but Pop and the Spurs clearly showed they knew what adjustments to make when they swept Memphis in the conference finals. I think San Antonio's defense against Miami in last year's finals was outstanding and this year they'll have home court advantage in the finals. 

Dan Friederg (@danfriedberg)

First Round Winners: Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Heat, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder

Second Round Winners: Pacers, Heat, Spurs, Thunder

Conference Finals Winners: Thunder, Heat

Finals Winner: Thunder

With LeBron and KD both at the peak of their powers, the role players will make the difference. Caron Butler, Jeremy Lamb, and an improving Reggie Jackson will tip the scales over an aging Ray Allen, a fragile and unproven Greg Oden, and an empty space where Mike Miller used to be. Durant will hoist his first championship trophy to go with his first MVP award, and the world shall rejoice.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

To get ready for the upcoming NBA playoffs, I want to take a look at a few key aspects in of certain series by examining important stats and key matchups. First, let’s have a look at the 3 vs. 6 battle in the East, which pits the Toronto Raptors vs. the Brooklyn Nets.

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. The Raptors became a winning ball club after trading the polarizing Rudy Gay, which had the positive effect of freeing up more opportunities for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Further, the Raptors finally played the hard-nosed defense that Dwane Casey had been hoping for since arriving to Toronto in 2011.

The Nets turnaround did not involve any sort of transaction. Instead, the Nets started playing their best when Jason Kidd embraced small ball by playing Paul Pierce at the 4. The result was the development of a more free-flowing Nets offense that exploits mismatches and always looks to make the extra pass.

Let’s take a look at both teams’ offensive and defensive ratings since their respective transformations. ***

*** The Raptors traded Rudy Gay on December 9. The Nets started playing better after losing to the Spurs on December 31.

 

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Raptors

107.2

102.5

+4.7

Nets

105.9

103.9

+2.0

The numbers show that the Raptors are a better team, which makes sense given that they are the 3 seed and the Nets are the 6 seed. But what happened when these two teams faced off in the regular season after their respective turnarounds?

 

Wins

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Raptors

2

107.5

102.4

+5.1

Nets

1

102.4

107.5

-5.1

The Raptors saw a slight uptick in their offensive and defensive production relative to their season averages while the Nets clearly struggled on both ends of the floor. We’ll start with the Raptors offense vs. the Nets defense.

Raptors Offense vs. Nets Defense

First, the Nets allowed three more second chance points per 100 possessions to the Raptors then they did to their other opponents. This is not all that surprising given that the Raptors are a top-10 offensive rebounding team and the Nets are a bottom-10 defensive rebounding team.

Perhaps a less predictable and more significant occurrence was that the Nets conceded two more points in the paint per 100 possessions than their average. That was largely because of Kyle Lowry’s excellence in getting into and finishing in the lane. Lowry has been so effective as a scorer this season because of his dual ability to score in the paint and from behind the 3-point line. His offensive versatility gave the Nets fits during the regular season and Coach Kidd has some important decisions to make with regards to how to defend Lowry and the Raptors other perimeter players.

Shaun Livingston is probably the Nets’ best option for guarding Lowry because he has the length and quickness to stay in front of Lowry and contest his jump shots. The problem with putting Livingston on Lowry is that Livingston is also the Nets best option for guarding DeRozan. In fact, according to NBA.com/stats, DeRozan shot 8-9 when Joe Johnson was guarding him and only 2-7 when Livingston was guarding him. Of course, this is a small sample size, but Livingston’s quickness advantage over Johnson makes him more suitable to guarding DeRozan, who likes to slash his way into the lane.

Look for the Nets to utilize Andrei Kirilenko or Alan Anderson on DeRozan so that Livingston can take on the Lowry matchup. This would have the added effect of allowing Deron Williams to hide on one of the Raptors’ less prominent perimeter options like Terrence Ross or Greivis Vasquez.

Nets Offense Vs. Raptors Defense

On the other side of the floor, the Nets’ small-ball style of play did not work as well against the Raptors as it did against many of their other opponents. The Nets play a very deliberate style of offense in which they use a lot of the shot clock to create and exploit whatever mismatches they can find. That often involves posting up Joe Johnson against smaller defenders or utilizing Paul Pierce’s speed against slower opposing big men. These mismatches are intended to either present Johnson or Pierce with a good opportunity to score in isolation or force the defense to provide help. If the defense decides to rotate, the Nets will look to move the ball until it finds an open man on the perimeter for a clean 3-point attempt.

This plan was not particularly effective against the Raptors, however, because the Raptors defenders were able to match up individually without requiring much help. Ross held his own against the stronger Joe Johnson and the Raptor bigs, particularly Amir Johnson, did a nice job of corralling Pierce. The Nets inability to manufacture mismatches caused them to have trouble creating offense. This is evidenced by the their uptick in turnovers and decline in assists relative to their norms.

 

AST %

TO Ratio

AST/TO Ratio

Nets since 1/1/14

58.4%

15.3

1.47

Nets vs. Raptors

50.5%

16.6

1.11

While the Nets’ average AST/TO Ratio isn’t great (ranks 20th in the league since January 1st), the 1.11 AST/TO ratio that they posted against the Raptors would rank as the lowest in the league.

The Nets have to find a way to score consistently by inducing the Raptors defense to rotate and get out of position. Otherwise, the Nets offensive struggles against Toronto could continue into the postseason.

Reinvented Nets Keep It Rolling

While Jason Kidd’s spilled drink epitomized the start of his tenure as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, he now has the team hitting on all cylinders and climbing up the standings in the Eastern Conference. One benefit of a long and stressful 82-game regular season is that it gives teams the opportunity to turn things around, especially for a team like the Nets who went into the New Year as a disappointing 10-21 team.

“Our goal is to try to win the Atlantic,” Kidd told ESPN New York 98.7. “And we still believe that we can do that. Again, Toronto is playing extremely well and it’s not going to be easy but we take one game at a time and if we take care of our business, then maybe we put ourselves in a position to win the Atlantic and that’s something we feel we can do.”

After moving Paul Pierce to the power forward position on January 1, the Nets have been streaking with a 26-10 record—including 11 straight wins at Barclays Center. They currently sit as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, 2.5 games behind the Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Nets have abandoned much of their halfcourt sets in favor of a more up-tempo pace after Brook Lopez suffered a season ending foot injury. The loss of Lopez’s 25.6 PER and 20.7 PPG has hurt the teams’ offensive output, but it has opened doors for other players to contribute.

Mason Plumlee injects frontcourt athleticism that the Nets have dearly lacked much of the season. Watching Kidd’s rookie season as coach, we can see that he wants his team to push the ball and run as much as possible, similar to Kidd’s own style of play.

Without creating turnovers, there would be no way any team would be able to generate a significant amount of points in transition. The Nets are currently tied for fourth in the league for steals per game at 8.6. Much of this can be attributed to backup point guard Shawn Livingston. Livingston ranks third in minutes played on the team, and has only missed one game all season. His long 6’11” wingspan allows him to switch effortlessly between defending guards and forwards, often creating steals that lead to easy transaction baskets for the Nets. When Livingston is on the court, the Nets allow a tough 97.3 points per 100 possessions since January 1; when Livingston is on the bench, the Nets give up 105.8 points per 100 possessions.

John Schuhmann—one of the best advanced stats writers in the business—describes Livingston perfectly: “A 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Livingston is the embodiment of Brooklyn’s new identity.”

With the lingering back issues for Kevin Garnett, Plumlee has been getting the minutes in the frontcourt starting the past ten games in Garnett’s absence. The Nets have scored an impressive 16.7% of their points off the fastbreak and 27.1 percent of opponent turnovers with Plumlee as a starter, compared to 10 percent and 16.4 percent respectively while Lopez was in the lineup.

After Plumlee was inserted into the starting lineup, Deron Williams has started to come on. In another injury-ridden season thanks to his ankles, Williams has had the worse statistical season since his rookie year. However, with the Nets running more on transaction, Williams is starting to round into form. So far in March—10 games in—he has averaged 17.2 PPG with 6 assists along with an impressive 48 percent shooting.

The presence of Jason Collins has provided the team with a consistent staple of locker room chemistry. While Collins averages less than 10 minutes per game, the Nets still agreed to terms to sign him for the rest of the year. This illustrates how much the Nets value Collins as a locker room presence, as well as his vocal leadership on defense. 

With 16 games left in the season, only four of those are against teams above .500. As long as the core group of Nets remains healthy going into the playoffs, they will certainly be a tough out in the playoffs against any team. Contrasting from last year’s lifeless team that was eliminated by the Bulls, the Nets have playoff-tested veterans like Pierce, Kirilenko and Garnett. No one player on the team has averaged more than 16 points per since January 1. Kidd has finally found his niche to be a successful NBA coach—playing unselfish basketball just as he did as a player. 

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

Fix It: Brooklyn Nets

Mikhail Prokhorov has invested far too much money in this team to not go down with the ship. Youíre left hoping that the early season struggles will evaporate as the season goes on. This team can hope for a favorable matchup in the playoffs (if they get there) that they can take advantage of and use as a springboard to the second round.

Tyshawn Taylor Credits Nets' Coaching Staff For Development

As a second round draft pick placed onto the Nets, Tyshawn Taylor spent extensive time in the D-League, but teammates and coaches swiftly noticed his tenacious style on both ends of the floor. Heís put up four double-digit scoring performances in 14 games this season and has a growing relationship with the new coaching staff.

Brook Lopez Carries Dominance To Pull Nets Out Of Dysfunction

A year ago, Brook Lopez would always speak as the ultimate role player citing a need to get others a flow on offense, before himself. A year ago, the skilled seven-footer was pushed away from the block far too often and at times resisted constant feeds inside. No more.

A Brave New World For Los Angeles, New York

Strangely, none of the major market teams have the competitive advantage of their location and a top-flight organizational reputation. History and money are still (largely) on their sides but players have become more conscious of organizational quality in recent years.

Nets Becoming NBA's Version Of The Yankees

After Brooklyn acquired Joe Johnson, everyone decried how inflexible their roster situation had become. Since then, they have acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche. The Nets are extremely deep, with one of the most loaded rosters from top to bottom in the league.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Why The Nets Have Become Title Contenders

The only thing crazier than Brooklynís reckless approach to team building this offseason is that it just might work. Championships arenít won on paper, but if everything goes right, all the pieces are in place for the Nets to make a deep run in the playoffs and could beat the Heat using the 2011 Mavs' model.

2013 NBA Offseason Primer

With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.

Evaluating The Risk, Reward Of Nets' Trade For Garnett, Pierce

We ended up with a quintessential Brooklyn Nets trade: flashy with big names and short-term benefits but with meaningful potential costs down the line. Fortunately for them, the team should be good enough to make those selections less painful to miss.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

Chemistry, Consistency Key To Future Of The Nets

Nets Win Game 5 With 'Aggressive' Mindset

Brook Lopez scored a series-high 28 points, while Deron Williams was aggressive in attacking a Bulls' defense missing Kirk Hinrich.

Nets' Game 1 Win Shows Series To Be Decided By Health, Interior Scoring

The Bulls and Nets finished the regular season ranked as two of the slowest paced teams in the league, preferring to operate in halfcourt sets. As much as anything the series appears to be shaping up to be defined by health and interior scoring.

Stackhouse's Path To Brooklyn, Iconic No. 42

Jerry Stackhouse has been a valued teammate providing tutelage as a coach on the floor and quality minutes at small forward when called upon. In the midst of his 18th season, Stackhouse has maintained his physique to keep up with the young legs of players who watched him growing up.

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