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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.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

To get ready for the upcoming NBA playoffs, I want to take a look at a few key aspects in of certain series by examining important stats and key matchups. First, let’s have a look at the 3 vs. 6 battle in the East, which pits the Toronto Raptors vs. the Brooklyn Nets.

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. The Raptors became a winning ball club after trading the polarizing Rudy Gay, which had the positive effect of freeing up more opportunities for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Further, the Raptors finally played the hard-nosed defense that Dwane Casey had been hoping for since arriving to Toronto in 2011.

The Nets turnaround did not involve any sort of transaction. Instead, the Nets started playing their best when Jason Kidd embraced small ball by playing Paul Pierce at the 4. The result was the development of a more free-flowing Nets offense that exploits mismatches and always looks to make the extra pass.

Let’s take a look at both teams’ offensive and defensive ratings since their respective transformations. ***

*** The Raptors traded Rudy Gay on December 9. The Nets started playing better after losing to the Spurs on December 31.

 

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Raptors

107.2

102.5

+4.7

Nets

105.9

103.9

+2.0

The numbers show that the Raptors are a better team, which makes sense given that they are the 3 seed and the Nets are the 6 seed. But what happened when these two teams faced off in the regular season after their respective turnarounds?

 

Wins

ORTG

DRTG

Net RTG

Raptors

2

107.5

102.4

+5.1

Nets

1

102.4

107.5

-5.1

The Raptors saw a slight uptick in their offensive and defensive production relative to their season averages while the Nets clearly struggled on both ends of the floor. We’ll start with the Raptors offense vs. the Nets defense.

Raptors Offense vs. Nets Defense

First, the Nets allowed three more second chance points per 100 possessions to the Raptors then they did to their other opponents. This is not all that surprising given that the Raptors are a top-10 offensive rebounding team and the Nets are a bottom-10 defensive rebounding team.

Perhaps a less predictable and more significant occurrence was that the Nets conceded two more points in the paint per 100 possessions than their average. That was largely because of Kyle Lowry’s excellence in getting into and finishing in the lane. Lowry has been so effective as a scorer this season because of his dual ability to score in the paint and from behind the 3-point line. His offensive versatility gave the Nets fits during the regular season and Coach Kidd has some important decisions to make with regards to how to defend Lowry and the Raptors other perimeter players.

Shaun Livingston is probably the Nets’ best option for guarding Lowry because he has the length and quickness to stay in front of Lowry and contest his jump shots. The problem with putting Livingston on Lowry is that Livingston is also the Nets best option for guarding DeRozan. In fact, according to NBA.com/stats, DeRozan shot 8-9 when Joe Johnson was guarding him and only 2-7 when Livingston was guarding him. Of course, this is a small sample size, but Livingston’s quickness advantage over Johnson makes him more suitable to guarding DeRozan, who likes to slash his way into the lane.

Look for the Nets to utilize Andrei Kirilenko or Alan Anderson on DeRozan so that Livingston can take on the Lowry matchup. This would have the added effect of allowing Deron Williams to hide on one of the Raptors’ less prominent perimeter options like Terrence Ross or Greivis Vasquez.

Nets Offense Vs. Raptors Defense

On the other side of the floor, the Nets’ small-ball style of play did not work as well against the Raptors as it did against many of their other opponents. The Nets play a very deliberate style of offense in which they use a lot of the shot clock to create and exploit whatever mismatches they can find. That often involves posting up Joe Johnson against smaller defenders or utilizing Paul Pierce’s speed against slower opposing big men. These mismatches are intended to either present Johnson or Pierce with a good opportunity to score in isolation or force the defense to provide help. If the defense decides to rotate, the Nets will look to move the ball until it finds an open man on the perimeter for a clean 3-point attempt.

This plan was not particularly effective against the Raptors, however, because the Raptors defenders were able to match up individually without requiring much help. Ross held his own against the stronger Joe Johnson and the Raptor bigs, particularly Amir Johnson, did a nice job of corralling Pierce. The Nets inability to manufacture mismatches caused them to have trouble creating offense. This is evidenced by the their uptick in turnovers and decline in assists relative to their norms.

 

AST %

TO Ratio

AST/TO Ratio

Nets since 1/1/14

58.4%

15.3

1.47

Nets vs. Raptors

50.5%

16.6

1.11

While the Nets’ average AST/TO Ratio isn’t great (ranks 20th in the league since January 1st), the 1.11 AST/TO ratio that they posted against the Raptors would rank as the lowest in the league.

The Nets have to find a way to score consistently by inducing the Raptors defense to rotate and get out of position. Otherwise, the Nets offensive struggles against Toronto could continue into the postseason.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of 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).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

Terrence Ross Keying Raptors' Ascent, Reason For Optimism

Over the last generation, many of the league’s best shooting guard prospects have been undone by getting too much too soon. Terrence Ross has been the exact opposite, an All-NBA talent forced to pay his dues and learn the game at every stop of the way.

Hansbrough Brings Experience, Toughness To Raptors

Tyler Hansbrough is far from an extrovert, but his experiences in Indiana are something he can pass along to teammates in Toronto. Like the Pacers, the Raptors are looking to transform into a contender through smart drafting and shrewd moves.

Why The Cavaliers' Model Continues To Setup Failure

The logic of the Cavaliers trading for Luol Deng is entirely backwards. Cleveland seems to think making the playoffs proves they are a legitimate NBA franchise. The reality is you can miss the playoffs and be a legit franchise and you can make the playoffs and not be one.

Rudy Gay Faces Difficulty Of Recapturing Budding Stardom

Rudy 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 Raptors’ season, his shooting is pedestrian and he admits he’s hastily searching for an offensive rhythm.

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.

Top-10 Lottery Teams That Could Make The 2014 NBA Playoffs

The Pelicans, Raptors, Pistons, Wolves, Cavaliers, Blazers, Wizards, Mavericks, and maybe even the Kings and Bobcats could find their way into the playoffs if a number of things go right.

Jonas Valanciunas And The New Big Man Synthesis

The highest-drafted Lithuanian of all-time (No. 5 in 2011), Jonas Valanciunas is the rare gigantic center with both athleticism and coordination. When the biggest guy on the floor knows how to use his size to his advantage, it’s a problem for everyone else.

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.

John Lucas III Thrives After Adjusting To Raptors

From Tom Thibodeau’s strict system to Dwane Casey’s schemes, John Lucas III values the styles of both coaches. He’s forever grateful for the way he grew under Thibodeau, receiving his first true platform to exhibit his game, and enjoys the chance now with Casey’s Raptors.

Bargnani Still Overcoming Elbow Injury As Patience Runs Thin Around Him

For Andrea Bargnani now, there’s always something new – from criticism inside and outside the Raptors to continued discussion about his capacity living up to the No. 1 pick Toronto used on him in 2006.

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.

Jose Calderon Rejuvenates Pistons' Culture, Smoothens Offense

Jose Calderon has already injected the Pistons with a new sense of confidence. Lawrence Frank marvels about Calderon’s calmness and leadership, and the coach has begun to rely upon him to smooth over the offense and, more importantly, rub his knowledge on Brandon Knight.

The Raptors' Impasse Under Colangelo

The immediate returns and subsequent excitement for the Raptors between 2006 and 2008 masked a fundamental flaw in their approach: the team had no direction, and as such, no identity moving forward. This lack of identity is what has led the Raptors to their current four-year playoff drought.

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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