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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.

Joakim Noah Saves Bulls' Chaotic Season

“I don’t like it,” Noah says. “No, I don’t like it. Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP, and that’s Derrick Rose. And it’s not about MVP’s, it’s about rings, and one day I hope that we can get one here.”

- Joakim Noah reaction on fans’ M-V-P chants for him

Noah has never been a man known for gaining recognition as the primary reason for his team’s outstanding play. Quite frankly, Noah isn’t comfortable in that role.

After the Chicago Bulls traded Luol Deng to Cleveland on January 7—in a deal that saved the Bulls $20 million—the Bulls have gone on a 22-11 run, improving to 36-29, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Everyone figured the Bulls’ front office had essentially given up on the season and were gearing up for the upcoming NBA Draft while also saving money. Nobody realized that the Bulls’ most important asset, Tom Thibodeau, had other plans.

With the losses of Rose and Deng, the Bulls had lost two of their primary shot creators on offense. Thibodeau—known for getting the most out of his players—began to use Noah in more high post sets, allowing journeyman players like Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich,and even D.J. Augustin to revitalize their values. Almost a quarter of Noah’s offensive play is in this set , 20.5 percent, have been used by Noah’s high post game per Synergy. With the evolution of the NBA point guard, it is unprecedented to run so many offensive plays through big men, especially on the high post.

Compared to previous years where Noah’s usage rate never went above 17, his usage rate has shot up to an astounding 18.5 in his breakout year. Noah is the engine that runs in sync with the Bulls; when he falters, so does the entire team.

Averaging a career high of almost five assists per game as a center, Noah has shown the rest of the league how he has become one of the best passing big men. His PER has gradually risen throughout the season to an impressive 20.02.

“He’s the heart and soul of the basketball here,” Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News of Noah. “The thing he does are varied. He doesn’t just rebound. He does a whole lot of things that make him very valuable.”  

Since Thibodeau has been at the helm of the Bulls, the main element that has led to constant success for the Bulls has been their high level of energy and commitment to detail. Noah’s second highest scoring chances are from offensive rebound, which leads to 1.09 points per play per Synergy. Usually when the focal rotation players on a team play with this level of energy, it becomes contagious and trickles down to the rest of the roster. The Bulls rank second in points allowed per 100 possessions at 100.7. Outside of five feet from the rim, opponent shooting drops to 37.4 percent.

Even Dwight Howard’s own coach, Kevin McHale, has endorsed Noah for Defensive Player of Year honors.

“He’s played very well,” McHale tells ESPNChicago reporter Scott Powers. “He should be defensive player of the year. He’s done a great job with these guys. They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates.” 

Perhaps the most chaotic season for the Bulls—where injuries and trades defined their season—everyone figured they were left for dead. Noah’s defiance against losing runs in harmony with Thibodeau. In a league that has transformed into the rapid transition style, Thibodeau has somehow made halfcourt offense remain relevant through its tenacious defense. Since the beginning of the New Year, nobody could have predicted the Bulls quick turnaround led by the amazing evolution of Noah's game.

Jimmer Fredette Gets Ideal Second Swing In NBA With Bulls

With the Sacramento Kings buying out Jimmer Fredette’s contract, the Chicago Bulls took a flyer on the third-year guard out of BYU. After a disappointing start to his professional career, it’s still premature to write him off from becoming a productive NBA player. This change of scenery was needed and Fredette now has a chance to prove that he belongs in the NBA.

Fredette was an absolute scoring machine coming out of BYU. In his senior season, he was a consensus National Player of the Year after he averaged 28.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting and led BYU to a 32-5 record along with a Sweet 16 appearance. He broke the Mountain West record for points in a career and currently ranks 34th on the Division I all-time career scoring list. 

As the 10th overall pick in 2011 ahead of Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Iman Shumpert, the 6-foot-2 guard faced some lofty expectations in his rookie season. He struggled early on since his knock-down jumper that was in range after crossing half-court in college was no longer consistent. Fredette shot only 36 percent from three and averaged 7.6 points per game in 18.6 minutes of action. His following year was better, as he averaged 7.2 points in 14 minutes on 42 percent shooting from deep, but he didn’t seem to be in Sacramento’s long-term plans.

The Kings drafted guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum earlier this season and Fredette was limited to 11.3 minutes per game. In his limited time, however, Fredette has shown glimpses of becoming the type of player some had expected.

Fredette is averaging 5.9 points per game in his reduced action while shooting 48 percent from the field and 49 percent from three. His 16.8 Player Efficiency Rating ranks 20th among point guards this season, while his 56.6 percent effective field goal percentage ranks fifth.

Although this could be a very good move for both sides, Fredette should not be expected to suddenly begin to justify his lottery standing. He isn’t a good defender and struggles keeping quicker point guards in front. In addition, it’s still unknown whether he can play the point guard position or if he may only be successful off the ball. But with Tom Thibodeau running the show, Fredette’s offensive game gives him potential as a key bench player at either guard spot.

“The more shooting you have, the more it opens up the floor,” Thibodeau told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. “We want to open things up to attack off the dribble, with our cuts, things of that nature. We feel that is an area of need.”

Chicago is scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possession (28th in NBA) and shooting 34 percent from three as a team. But with the second best scoring defense in the NBA, Chicago is fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and is on track to have homecourt advantage in the first round.

“I’ve seen that he’s got talent,” Taj Gibson told Marc Stein of ESPN. “It’s just that the team he was on, he never really got a chance to do much because they’ve got the characters on that team where they don’t seem too serious, you know what I’m saying? Playing on strict, good teams kind of brings the best out of a player.”

As Fredette dons a new uniform, it will be interesting to see if Thibodeau and the Bulls can find a way to utilize him within their system. Talent is only visible through opportunity; and Fredette could seize his opportunity very soon.

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: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have the best defensive coach in the NBA, elite defenders at four positions, and a defensive system that always puts them at the top of the table in terms of points per possession.

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.

Focused Summer Drives Trimmed Dexter Pittman Into Bulls' Camp

Under Impact trainer Joe Abunassar, Dexter Pittman participated in workouts to increase his stamina, elevate his conditioning, and heard perspectives from the NBA veterans who would work out inside the facility.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

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

2013 NBA Offseason Primer

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

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.

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.

Bulls Playing On House Money Without Rose, Possibly Noah

The Bulls finished the season 5-5 over their final 10 games. While the record is disappointing, they know they're much better than they've played. Leaving the regular season behind, the Bulls are looking forward to getting the playoffs started and reminding everyone what they're capable of when healthy and focused.

Nate Robinson Thriving Under Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau has found a balance between minimizing Nate Robinsonís erratic play while maintaining his infectious high-energy play.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

Jimmy Butler Blossoming As Bullsí Ultimate Utility Man

Gaining the trust of Tom Thibodeau has been a process for Jimmy Butler, and last year he concentrated on showing the coach that heís always ready. Butler got off to a slow start this season, admittedly passing up shots and playing tense. Nevertheless, his minutes gradually increased, and his confidence followed.

Keith Bogans Briefly Pondered Return To Bulls In Offseason

For a brief moment last offseason, coming back to the Bulls looked like a realistic possibility for Keith Bogans. Ultimately, Bogans believed re-signing with the Nets fit him best.

Injured Brandon Jennings Concedes Bullsí Edge On His Homecourt

Brandon Jennings set a serious tone from the tip and played an excellent game Saturday, going for 23 points, seven assists and five steals, carrying the offense with Monta Ellis missing 10-of-17 shots and Ersan Ilyasova again disappearing.

Bulls Start Strong Against Soft Schedule

The Bulls remain strong defensively as expected, but scoring points without Rose will determine if the Bulls bounce around .500 this year or contend in the upper half of the Eastern Conference.

Leroux's 2012-13 NBA Tier Predcitions

While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.

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