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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.

Haslem, Wade Share 'Maintenance' Plan In Quest For Fourth Ring

Together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem shared a warm embrace to encapsulate a third championship last June. The longest-tenured Miami Heat players signed professional contracts in August of 2003 and suffered a 15-win season six years ago, but conversations between the two begin on the successes and ability to sneak up on people doubting their NBA longevity.

This season, the Heat devised what they phrased as a “maintenance” scheme to maintain the strength in Wade’s knees – only discreetly involving Haslem, a postseason savior hidden in the deep reaches of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation for a reason. Haslem went the entirety of February benched, given doses of Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision, and will miss over 34 games for the same cause.

No key contributor in a title run simply disappears like this, healthy and able. Haslem had started 19 of 23 playoff games a year ago, knocking down clutch jumpers and conducting critical defensive stands, absorbing the physicality of the Indiana Pacers’ frontcourt and never fearing the consequences. While Wade and Spoelstra held endless dialogue about his “maintenance,” privately Haslem never expected his own protective plan, never saw all the DNP-CDs coming in a healthy season.

Only Spoelstra’s system and culture and the best player in basketball afford the absences of Wade and Haslem for most of the season, and still compete for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Oh, no, I didn’t know I was going to be sitting all those games this year,” Haslem told RealGM. “Had no idea. It was difficult going through the situation, but I kept myself ready. I worked out every day with [James Jones], Rashard [Lewis], [Michael] Beasley, Toney Douglas and Justin Hamilton, playing three-on-three and keeping each other encouraged.”

As the basketball microscope focused on Wade, Miami concealed Haslem, too, and now the 33-year-old finds his rhythm in the season’s final weeks. As an undrafted player 11 years into his career, Haslem’s an ultimate overachiever. At 6-foot-8, he closed any gap in height or power with grit and a fearless mind. When Haslem buried six jumpers and had 17 points in Game 3 of the Conference Finals last May, some teammates would say in the post-game locker room, “Don’t sleep on U.D.”

Someone assuredly will in May and June, and Haslem has capitalized so often. For now, Spoelstra trusts Lewis and Haslem in the rotation, but the coach knows that leaving just spot minutes for Shane Batter – with his penchant to make crucial shots and place his body on the line – is an unlikely proposition in the playoffs.

Everyone has a calling come postseason, Spoelstra says, and now he’s challenging his locker room to sustain a competitive disposition, to stay motivated against desperate teams.

No matter how wise the Heat’s approach with Wade could turn out to be, there are varying beliefs around the league about a player fluctuating in game action, fluctuating in flow, in his prime years. None of it would matter should a hamstring or a knee give out, like his right hamstring had last week due to spasms late in the loss to the Pacers. In the end, Wade will play less than 60 games for the first time in a full (non-lockout) regular season since 2007-08.

“For Dwyane, it’s precaution,” Haslem said. “Managing his body and making sure it doesn’t get worse.”

Their diligence to Wade’s fitness pushed Miami to scour for combo guards before the trade deadline, and Pat Riley ultimately acquired Toney Douglas from the Golden State Warriors in January. Despite speculation surrounding a possible parting upon his arrival, the Heat never notified Douglas about plans to complete a buyout or release, a source told RealGM.

Douglas understood he was kept around for moments when the voids of Wade and Ray Allen created available minutes in the backcourt, and he’s scored 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished nine assists over the past two games.

“I know I can play, and when I’m on the court, I produce and do my job,” Douglas said. He was part of the New York Knicks team that lost to Miami in the first round in 2012, and when traded, he saw the selfless attitude within a locker room with championship credibility. “Right when I came in, I could tell the top players – LeBron [James], Wade and Chris [Bosh] – lead by example. It’s all about winning. There is a winning mentality here.”

Only about winning for the Miami Heat, and out of a philosophy from the San Antonio Spurs’ playbook, a team with title pedigree must be handled delicately. Rest and attrition is valued in the journey from October to mid-April. Together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem share the same highs of prosperity, the same low of futility, in this franchise. Together, their plan for freshness could prove genius in June.

Heat Left Vulnerable With No Deal To Improve Bench

Listed as the top-heavy title darlings at 11/5 odds, the Miami Heat are still largely considered the favorites to win the title this season. LeBron James is playing at an all-time top-5 individual basketball level while also seemingly leaving enough in the tank to win 16 games again in late April, May and June.

Yet, oddsmakers and the general public seem to forget how incredibly difficult it is to threepeat in the NBA. Only three NBA franchises (Celtics, Lakers, Bulls) have been successful in completing the feat of winning three championships in a row in NBA history.

“There’s a reason these teams don’t do it,” Steve Kerr tells Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “Emotionally, it’s just exhausting to keep doing it year after year, particularly when you have to deal with everything Miami has to deal with on a daily basis, just the constant critiquing and scrutiny on the team, and then you factor in the injuries with Wade and Bosh and their health. I don’t think Miami will get out of the East this year.”

While other contenders have been constantly tweaking their rotations up until the trade deadline, the Heat have stood pat with what they’ve had, other than shedding the contract of Joel Anthony for unserviceable guard Toney Douglass. Miami's rotation this season is much thinner than in previous seasons, and the pressure of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden to produce consistently would be a stretch.

The Indiana Pacers swapped Danny Granger for the talented former second overall pick Evan Turner to help provide more consistency as a swingman off the bench. Additionally, the Pacers were able to add Andrew Bynum as insurance for big man depth on their roster. Through 60 games, the Pacers bench has produced a solid positive 0.6-point differential compared to a negative 0.7-point differential last year per NBA.com. 

Over the past two years, the Pacers have closed the gap on the Heat. Fused with the drastic annual improvements to now superstar Paul George, breakout player Lance Stephenson, a relentless pit bull-like mentality from David West, and the ruthless interior defense from Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are hungrier than ever to get past the Heat.

Comparing the rotations of the Heat last season to this one can give us a solid idea of its lack of depth. The loss of Mike Miller has pushed veteran Shane Battier to play even more meaningful minutes than what he signed up for. Outside of Battier, Erik Spoelstra is forced to use Beasley in hopes of spelling LeBron and Battier minutes in the playoffs. Miller was crucial in huge moments in last year’s playoffs hitting timely three-point shots as he did in 2012. Except for Ray Allen, the Heat have been unable to find a consistent three-point shooter that could take pressure off the Big Three.

Additionally, the loss of Anthony in favor of Oden should be looked at intently. Sure Oden beats Anthony from a talent standpoint, but trusting him to play a solid 15-20 minutes off the bench to spell Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen in the playoffs would be taking a huge risk, considering how brittle Oden’s knees are.

Lastly, we all know how much of an X-factor Dwayne Wade is for the title chances of the Heat. Last year, the Heat were in serious trouble against both the Pacers and Spurs, but Wade was able to string together a couple of old vintage performances. Because of Wade’s career long knee woes, we have only seen ‘flashes’ of his superstar play, rather than the old Flash we have all come to know. Wade’s knees aren’t getting any healthier even though he has been more strategic about rest throughout the regular season. Through the past three years, Dwayne Wade’s usage rate and PER has dropped each year, 28.9, 27, 25.4, and 26.37, 24.04, 22.43, respectively.

“As you get older, your game has to change and you have to think the game,” Wade tells Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, “more than anything when you’re young, you just react….now you got to think the game, and so certain games when I’m frustrated with myself because I’m not thinking the game like I should, but for the majority of it, I do a good job of reading the game and thinking the game a little.”

Wade knows he can no longer rely on his athletic ability and must develop a craftier skill-set in order to prolong his basketball career. The Heat personnel put even more pressure on guys like Wade in order to produce by not providing much depth to back him up. Turner cost the Pacers merely $500,000 in order to acquire him, so while the Heat didn't have a huge expiring contract to cash in for a player like him, it is hard to imagine a deal for depth couldn't be made. Because of the talent in June's draft, this season has produced an even larger than normal surplus of teams trying to tank; therefore its quite strange to see the Heat not even make a minor move to help insure their team even a bit of depth on their quest for the rare threepeat.

During these upcoming playoffs, we will witness James realize his supporting cast is weaker than previous seasons, thus raising his game to another level. Similar to the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in Game 5 when James scored the final 29 of 30 points for his Cavaliers, there is a good chance this type of performance will be required from him. His usage rate and stats will all be at all-time highs, yet it is still difficult to see the Heat winning a third straight title without the suitable supporting cast. 

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).

Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

The Western Conference is nine degrees warmer on average than the Eastern Conference, which must be considered as a factor in why it has been a far deeper conference over the past two decades.

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.

The South Beach Experiment Is Over- It Worked

One of the most common criticisms of the Heat is that they “bought” their championships. The real story, though, is who exactly is doing the buying. For the Spurs, the players are cogs in an organization. In Miami, the players are the organization. They’re a worker-controlled factory, employee-owned and operated.

2013 NBA Finals Retrospective

Through the first five games of the series, we had noticed a trend that had developed: The winner of the points in the paint battle turned out to be the victor in that particular game. Game 6 and Game 7 went the other way.

LeBron's Burden

Teams, not individuals, win championships. The team that has played harder and smarter – minus a little Heat luck in Game 6 – has been the winner through the first six games. That won’t change in Game 7.

Jarvis Varnado Excited About Future With Heat

Jarvis Varnado will play on Miami’s summer league team in July, a critical moment for him to prove his standing to Heat management. He is confident the Heat will keep him through his non-guaranteed contract next season, but he also understands the burden of continuing to make strides.

Breaking Down The Epic Game 6

Down 10 and in desperate need of a run, Erik Spoelstra went with the lineup that initiated the 33-5 run for the Heat in Game 2: Maro Chalmers, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, LeBron James and Chris Andersen. They scored on their first four possessions and opened up the floor.

Anatomy Of A Run

There are a hundred fascinating storylines coming out of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, one of the greatest games in NBA history. The three-minute stretch to start the fourth quarter allowed the instant classic finish to play out and gives us a lot to consider ahead of Game 7.

Spurs Isolate, Defend Paint, Go Up 3-2

Prior to Game 5, the Heat were averaging 58.7 percent on shots in the paint in the series, going 81-for-138 as a team. In Game 5, the Spurs did an excellent job of defending the paint, allowing the Heat to convert on just 46.5 percent.

The Big Three Make It Best-Of-Three

It all started in the first quarter, with the Heat playing aggressively on defense and on offense with their modified starting lineup, aiming to play the way they play best: small.

Dwyane Wade's Game 4 Arrival, Masterpiece

Finishing the game with 32 points, six rebounds, four assist and a playoff career-high six steals, Dwyane Wade controlled the game and set the tone for the champs. It was his best game of the playoffs and a performance that could serve as a springboard for the remainder of the Finals.

Heat Seek Bounce Back In Game 4

Win or lose, LeBron James is ready to make a statement in Game 4. He won’t forget about his teammates, understanding he wouldn’t be in the Finals without them, but he understands it’s time to place his signature on the series for something more than a spectacular block or bad shooting night.

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