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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.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

The Houston Rockets have been consistently strong this year and the first regular season of the Harden-Howard duo turned out to be a success. Despite persistent questions about the team’s lack of commitment to perimeter defense, the Rockets won 54 games including 33 at home, which was the fourth most in the league.

The Portland Trail Blazers were the talk of the league after winning 20 of their first 24 games. They were mostly able to sustain their productivity on offense, but leaky defense caused them to go through two prolonged slumps during the regular season.

Here are the efficiency ratings for both teams during the 2013-14 season.

 

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Rockets

108.6

103.1

+5.5

Trail Blazers

108.3

104.7

+3.5

Now, here’s when they faced off against each other.

 

Wins

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Rockets

3

114.6

105.0

+9.6

Trail Blazers

1

105.0

114.6

-9.6

It seems that the Rockets offense exploded against the Blazers while the Blazers were unable to match their own typical offensive production when playing Houston. One of the primary reasons for this is because of the disparity in offensive efficiency between each team’s All-Star big man during these games.

Rockets Offense Vs. Blazers Defense

Dwight Howard was able to score more against Portland than he was against most other opponents. Check out how his stats against the Blazers exceeded his normal averages.

Dwight Howard Stats (All per game)

 

PTS

FGA

FG%

Paint

2nd Chance

Vs. Blazers

25.5

15.0

63.3%

19

5

Season Avg.

18.3

11.3

59.1%

13.1

3.9

Howard got more touches and shot at a better percentage versus the Blazers. This is interesting because Robin Lopez is generally considered to be a competent post defender. The reason Howard was so dominant in the 4 regular season games was because the Blazers decided they were going to resist double teaming Howard when he got the ball in the post in order to stay close to the Rockets 3-point shooters. The Blazers mostly accomplished their goal of curtailing the Rockets’ 3-point attack, as Chandler Parsons, Patrick Beverley, and Francisco Garcia all shot below average from behind the arc. However, the strategy did not do much to slow the Rockets overall offensive output, as Howard constantly took advantage of single coverage in the post to score easily at the rim.

The following clips exemplify how Howard was able to score inside against the Blazers. Notice how the Blazers’ perimeter defenders are content to stay at home on the shooters and watch Howard go up for a dunk.

http://on.nba.com/1meLq4F

http://on.nba.com/1meLvW9

Terry Stotts may have to consider double-teaming Howard in the post in the playoffs if he wants to slow the Houston offense.

Blazers Offense Vs. Rockets Defense

LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard are vastly different players and the matchup between Portland and Houston reveals how they impact defenses in different ways. Aldridge is most comfortable around the elbows where he can get shoot his midrange jumper over just about any defender. He is an elite shooter from that spot and his excellence in that area is a large part of why the Blazers are the 5th seed in a tough Western Conference.

However, relying heavily on midrange jump shots represents an inefficient method of offense. While Howard shot 59% from the field during the season, Aldridge shot 45.8%. Granted, Aldridge is the primary scoring option on the Blazers offense whereas Howard is only Houston’s second or third. Regardless, Aldridge’s mid-range heavy game is less efficient and doesn’t put as much pressure on a defense as Howard’s inside game.

Here’s a table comparing Aldridge’s season averages to his stats vs. the Rockets.

LaMarcus Aldridge Stats (All per game)

 

PTS

FGA

FG%

Paint

2nd Chance

Vs. Rockets

26.8

23.5

42.8%

11.5

7.0

Season Avg.

23.2

20.6

45.8%

7.8

3.5

Aldridge’s scoring average against the Rockets was higher than his season average but that increase was mainly due to the fact that he took about 3 more shots per game. He did score more in the paint and off second chance opportunities, yet his field goal percentage was lower.

In the same way that the Blazers chose not to double team Howard, the Rockets avoided double teaming Aldridge and were happy to let Terrence Jones defend him one on one. Jones struggles on defense when he has to guard powerful post players but his length and athleticism allow him to have success against more perimeter-oriented big men.

The clip below illustrates how Jones was consistently able to force Aldridge into taking tough contested shots.

http://on.nba.com/1meKXiM

The Rockets didn’t even send a double team when James Harden switched onto Aldridge in the post. This possession demonstrates Aldridge’s reluctance or inability to overpower smaller defenders inside.

http://on.nba.com/1meL5yY

The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses don’t make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

Dwight Howard Has Rockets Looking Like Title Contenders

With a 106-103 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday, the Houston Rockets moved into a tie for third place out West. Winners of 8 of their last 10, Houston has found a groove - every man in their 9-man rotation has settled into a role. With a 41-19 record and a +4.5 point differential, they are on pace to win 55 games in a stacked conference. The 13-14 Rockets are the best team Dwight Howard has been on since the 08-09 Orlando Magic, whom he lead to the NBA Finals.

At 28 and in the prime of his career, Howard has become a somewhat forgotten man in the NBA. After burning bridges on his way out of town in Orlando and Los Angeles, his Q rating has fallen off a cliff. At the same time, a lengthy recovery from back surgery had many questioning whether he was already peaked as a player. This season, almost two years removed from the procedure, Howard has reestablished himself as the best center in the NBA.

At 6’10 260 with a 7’4 wingspan, Howard is one of the most physically imposing players in the league. Even though he gives up height to a lot of centers, his broad shoulders carve out a tremendous amount of space in the paint. He’s a force of gravity - he has tremendous mass, very long arms and he still has the ability to play high above the rim. When he gets the ball inside, help defenders are naturally drawn to him. On defense, few can move him out of position.

Howard is the anchor of the 12th rated defense in the NBA, an impressive number when you consider the youth of the players in front of him. Patrick Beverley, Chandler Parsons, James Harden and Terrence Jones are all 25 or younger and Beverley is the only one with much of a defensive reputation. Parsons, Harden and Jones are more focused on the offensive end of the floor, particularly Harden, whose defensive effort is lacking at best, if not outright egregious.

And while he’s no longer leading the league in rebounding, Howard is still grabbing 12.5 bounds a game. His ability to clean the defensive glass allows the Rockets perimeter players to leak out in transition, where they are particularly deadly. Once he gets the rebound, Howard can get down the floor quickly, drawing defensive attention and opening up shooters on the perimeter. You can count the number of centers who can bang and run with Howard on one hand.

Where Howard differs from guys like DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond is his effectiveness in the halfcourt. He may never have the refined post moves of Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach, but he’s light years ahead of most modern centers who can’t play with their back to the basket. Howard commands a double team on the block; he gives his team the versatility to play either out of the post or the pick-and-roll. Few teams have the personnel to defend both.

Add it all up and you have a very impressive package of skills at the center position - an elite defender who averages 20 points a game on 59 percent shooting and is also a Top-5 rebounder. When guys play with Howard, they benefit from the attention he draws on offense and his ability to cover up their mistakes on defense. The centerpiece of Houston’s offense and defense, he makes his teammates better on both sides of the ball, the mark of a true superstar.

To understand his importance, all you have to do is look at his former teams. The Magic turned Howard into some quality young players, yet they still have a 19-43 record and are years away from respectability. The Lakers, meanwhile, are already selling their fans on the 2015 and 2016 free agent classes. There’s just no way to replace the canyon-sized hole Howard’s absence creates. When Dwight leaves town, turn off the lights, because the party is over.

Howard has made only one NBA Finals appearance in his 10-year career, but that’s mostly a testament to how shallow his supporting casts have been. Who was the best player he played with in Orlando - Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu or Jameer Nelson? He was certainly not in a situation like LeBron James in Miami, playing with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, or Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, when he was teamed up with Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Who knows what would have happened if the Magic had a perimeter player like Harden, instead of relying on Nelson and Turkoglu as their primary playmakers. The combination of Harden and Howard shifts the balance of power in the West, not only this season, but well into the next decade. In 2020, Howard will be 35 and Harden will be 31, younger than what Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are now. The Rockets aren’t going anywhere for a very long time.

When you project Howard’s career going forward, it’s hard not to see him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In his first 10 seasons in the NBA, Howard has made the All-Star team eight times, the All-NBA team seven times and the All-Defensive team five times. He has won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, scored over 13,000 points and grabbed over 9,000 rebounds. Keep in mind, he did all of this while he was too “immature” to be a championship-caliber player.

Just like LeBron in Cleveland, Howard has been psychoanalyzed to death by a culture that can’t accept the fact that basketball is a team game. Over the course of his career, Howard has done more than enough to put his teams in championship contention. The reality is that no one was winning a title with Howard’s supporting cast in either Orlando or Los Angeles. He’s in a better situation in Houston, with a shrewd front office and a talented young core around him.

This summer, the Rockets can either make a run at Kevin Love or count on internal improvement and Howard’s ability to lure free agents. Other players may not like his personality, but they respect his game. There are only three players who can swing the balance of power in the NBA - one is in South Beach, one is in OKC and one is in Houston. My guess is the team that knocks off LeBron James will have either Dwight Howard or Kevin Durant on it.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.

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.

The Anti-Tank

The Rockets acquired all of their assets without “tanking,” as they never finished below 9th in the conference. By constantly acquiring/retaining valuable assets, Daryl Morey avoided the risky paths of relying on a rookie to become a franchise player or relying on a superstar free agent signing despite not having a superstar teammate to play with.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

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

Star By Star

If the owners want to make it harder for superstars to switch teams, they have to increase the financial incentives for them to stay. Otherwise, franchises with one All-Star will forever be looking over their shoulder. To paraphrase Sean Parker, having two stars isn’t cool. Having three is.

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.

False Positives In Scouting For The NBA Draft

For all they told us, Thomas Robinson's college stats might as well have been his high school ones. Even the most advanced statistics depend on the underlying data and the data coming out of college is fairly flawed.

Options Aplenty For Rockets

In the sea of organizations dealing with the NBA's new rules and fitting them in with their financial and personnel constraints, the Rockets stand out as being the most interestingly situated heading forward.

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.

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.

What James Harden Needs

James Harden may be the best shooting guard in the NBA within the next two seasons, but as Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant's careers have shown, he’ll still need a lot of help to make the Rockets a legitimate championship contender.

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.

Jeremy Lin Ready To Move Past 'Linsanity'

Jeremy Lin won't be distracted by the enormous amount of attention he's sure to get. Nobody knows how good Lin really is, but there is a feeling that his popularity, not his game, is the biggest reason the Rockets gave him a three-year, $25.1 million dollar contract.

Leroux's 30-Team Offseason Review

The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

The Center Depth Of The 2008 Draft Class

The centers of the 2008 Draft class figure prominently in the 2012 free agency and comprise six of the 30 starters at the game’s most valuable position.

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