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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.

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!

The Outlook For The Blazers At The Deadline

It would be easy for the Blazers to stand pat at the deadline, as they’ve already done more than enough to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2011. At the same time, their core is firmly in their 20s and the long-term status of LaMarcus Aldridge hasn't been resolved.

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