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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.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

When the clock hit 3 PM EST on Thursday, basketball fans around the globe groaned as another NBA trade deadline passed without the epic blockbusters that fill the RealGM Forums. Although the deadline lacked a true blockbuster, the trades that were made (and the ones that were left on the table) will undoubtedly shift the landscape of the Western Conference playoff picture and possibly the team that will be facing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals (It’s a lock, nobody is seriously questioning it).

The four most notable trades in the West came from the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Warriors, who picked up Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers, will look for him to provide the steady hand off the bench that they have been pursuing since Jarrett Jack left in the offseason. Blake’s addition isn’t going to drastically improve the team, but he is able to give the team quality backup point guard minutes behind Stephen Curry, given Jordan Crawford’s inability to play without Brad Stevens as his coach.

The Rockets moved little used backup point guard, Aaron Brooks, to the Denver Nuggets for Jordan Hamilton. After refusing to lower their insane asking price on Omer Asik, the Rockets decided to fill their lack of a stretch four with Hamilton. Despite Hamilton blatantly not being a power forward or an elite shooter (39 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3), the Rockets apparently believe he can become one when freed up as Dwight Howard draws attention in the post. The more important aspect to this trade is that it likely allows the Rockets to call-up D-League star, Isaiah Canaan.

The Spurs traded little used point guard Nando de Colo for Austin Daye. In one of the day’s most intriguing moves, the Spurs took on another reclamation project in the form of a 6’11 shooter who was once a top prospect coming out of high school. While Daye has struggled to earn minutes outside of his second season in the NBA (when he shot 40 percent from 3), he has tremendous length, can guard multiple positions, and San Antonio has shown interest in him. If that isn’t a sign of someone that will be playing meaningful playoff minutes in May, I am not sure what is.

The last deals of any consequence in the West were by the Clippers. They traded both Antawn Jamison and BJ Mullens for the rights to a Turkish player that probably is unaware he was traded, and a conditional second round draft pick that will likely never happen. These deals, while not interesting beyond the salary implications for the Clippers, do allow open roster spots on the team for buyout candidates. Look for Glen “Big Baby” Davis to join his old coach, Doc Rivers.

While each team above made a move – albeit small – at the trade deadline, the other five teams in contention, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies all stood pat.

Although several teams are in desperate need of a big man (OKC, PDX, PHX), no one budged on Philly’s offer of two second round draft picks for Spencer Hawes.

Portland, who is without a second round draft pick until 2019, had a tremendous need for Hawes with Joel Freeland out for two months and LaMarcus Aldridge banged up.

The Thunder flirted with a deal for Knicks embattled shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, but backed off at the last moment.

As for the remaining needs, the slew of veterans that will likely be bought out this upcoming week will have to suffice. Fortunately for these teams, Glen Davis, Caron Butler, Danny Granger, Jason Terry, Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Antawn Jamison are all buyout candidates.

Many NBA teams believe it is better to trade during the offseason so that players can get familiar with a system and their teammates, while others utilize the short second half of the season as a tryout for recently acquired players to see if they’re long-term fits. It appears that teams trading in the offseason are better off. For any fan grumbling over their team not making a blockbuster yesterday, here’s a stat you need to know: one; as in the number of Championship teams during the last 25 years to trade for a starter at the trade deadline (Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons in 2004). So while fans of the Rockets clamored for Rajon Rondo and Warriors' fans hoped for Kevin Love, just know that the odds of you winning the title with those guys was slim to none.

Happy Trade Deadline everyone! Only 124 more days until the NBA Draft!

Rudy Gay Faces Difficulty Of Recapturing Budding Stardom

Rudy Gay was a mesmerizing young talent out of Jim Calhoun’s UConn program, and sometimes teammates would ask him if his defender was troubling on a certain night. Gay constantly responded the same way: Don’t credit the defender, it’s solely my fault. It was his way of maintaining an edge, maintaining confidence when he missed shots.

This belief delivered him as a 20-point scorer in his second NBA season, and Gay had taken the projection of Carmelo Anthony before him, Kevin Durant after him. Pure scoring. A smooth, mechanically sound jump shot. Boundless athleticism. Gay always possessed the tools – crafted under Calhoun – and tremendous strength at 6-foot-8.

Gay reached a peak three seasons ago, and at 27 now he hasn’t attained the individual or team milestones that his gifts were expected to bestow. Three games into the Toronto Raptors’ season, his shooting is pedestrian and he admits he’s hastily searching for an offensive rhythm.

Over the summer, Jerry Colangelo inquired with Gay about the possibility of returning to USA Basketball for a minicamp compiled of guys mostly in their early twenties. As much as anything, the Team USA architect was offering Gay an opportunity to surround himself again with hungry, aspiring players.

Gay had considered Colangelo’s call, his invitation, to participate in the program with which he played a reserve role in the gold medal of the 2010 World Championships, but he ultimately declined.

“Mr. Colangelo respected that I couldn’t be involved with it this summer because I had a lot of things going on in the summer,” Gay told RealGM. “I still want to be part of USA Basketball, part of the experience. Of course.”

As a final cut of the Olympic team in 2012, Gay had came so close to placing himself on a grand stage around all these stars – Anthony and Durant and, yes, LeBron James. In some ways, the July experience could have allowed Gay to cultivate an in with Team USA officials, in a summer Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Harrison Barnes used wisely.

From the summer to the new season, Gay understood the looming pressures of lifting the Raptors into the playoffs. That’s the expectation his arrival in late January brought, and Toronto closed last season going 18-18. Gay missed 10 of 14 shots for 18 points in Saturday’s 97-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, but he grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.

Gay believed his accuracy in shooting would be boosted, his life beyond the court clearer, by a procedure on his eyes in the offseason. They had deteriorated severely in recent years and bothered him away from basketball, so surgery proved to be a no-brainer.

“The procedure was something that had to be done,” Gay told RealGM. “Not just for basketball purposes, but for living. You got to see when you’re driving, and see all the little things in life and see your kids right.”

On his early struggles with his jumper, Gay sighed.

“I’m just trying not to be one-dimensional,” Gay said. “I can’t remember the last time I made a shot. … My shot’s not falling, and I want to make efforts on defense and on the rebounding glass.”

The Raptors have become a heavy jump shooting team with Gay and DeMar DeRozan initiating most of their offensive sets in isolations or screen plays. In what will assuredly be the last season of his contract, it’s clear Gay will continue to be in tireless speculation. Dwane Casey, for his part, remains a hard charging, pushing coach – no matter how uneven a situation he’s been dealt in previous spots (Minnesota), too.

In his mind, Casey knows the Raptors will go as far as the streaks of Gay and DeRozan, and that means they’ll be as high as the bottom half of a treacherous, top-heavy Eastern Conference playoff bracket. “For us to win, [Gay] and DeMar both have to playmakers – as well as scorers,” Casey said.

After taking the Raptors’ lead management job, Masai Ujiri made sharp signings to add depth and youth, including Dwight Buycks, Julyan Stone and Tyler Hansbrough. These Raptors should compete for a playoff seed; yet they’re firmly planted in the dreaded middle ground of the NBA, a non-contender as constructed that’s also a not a threat for a high draft pick.

Looking back, Gay has always refuted any notion that the Memphis Grizzlies stood as a better, more savvy team without him on the court. Following the trade of Gay last season, the Grizzlies went to the Western Conference Finals, and he would have simply given them an additional scorer at critical times their offense couldn’t match a rigid defense.

Six months after the Grizzlies’ run, Gay shook his head when asked about his possible role on that Memphis team and said, “They’re a good team. That’s all I’ll say … I’m a Raptor now, so I can’t worry about it.”

And for a moment, he had returned to that bashful star molded at UConn. Except now, Rudy Gay is learning the burden of retaining a standing he’d once held in the league, as a young, emerging talent.

The Marquee Non-National Teams To Watch

While there are no direct criteria, my non-national teams have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

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.

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.

Pressing On: Lineup Considerations For The Grizzlies In A Post-Rudy Gay†World

Evaluating the lineup trends and their net effect on offensive and defensive output since the Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay.

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.

Grizzlies Winning 'Big'

While most of the basketball world is going to small ball, the Grizzlies employ a big frontcourt that can pound teams for points in the paint and rebounds. The Grizzlies have reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but can we now consider them a legitimate title threat?

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.

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 Value And Potential Of Josh Selby

If you consider his pedigree, Josh Selby's co-MVP performance this summer could be a sign that a once highly-touted phenom is back on track. Selby has established himself as an NBA talent, and he has the chance to carve out a career as a dynamic combo guard off the bench.

Return Of Arthur, Maynor Will Let Two Contenders Improve From Within

Neither the Thunder or Grizzlies have had the flexibility to make any major moves this offseason, but both should be significantly improved by a talented young role player coming off a year-long injury.

Team-By-Team Top Position Needs

Center represents the position of greatest need for nearly half the NBA, while power forward isn't the top priority for a single team.

Notes From 2012 NBA Draft Media Day

Polling the Green Room candidates to determine who they think will be the second best player of the class, the rise of skinny guys, a new Harrison Barnes and which team workout was the toughest.

The Most Dangerous Team In The Western Conference?

At every position on the floor, the Grizzlies have at least one player who can create their own shot, defend and shoot. While they donít have a transcendent superstar, they have the personnel to exploit teams who surround their All-NBA players with one dimensional players.

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