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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.

Spurs Remain The Surest Playoff Bet

After Ray Allen took the life out of the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a lot of people—including myself—thought their era of contention would draw to a close. It had been seven years since the Spurs last won a title, yet they have managed to stay relevant every season since.

“I don’t take it as a redemption,” Manu Ginobili told David Flores of Kens5.com. “I think we had a hell of a playoff run last year, and it just happened that we lost. We had an unbelievable regular season. We put ourselves in a great situation to be No. 1 overall. And we’re going for it, like ever year.”

San Antonio finished the regular season with a 62-20 record, good for 1st in the brutally tough Western Conference. With 30 road wins, they managed to become the 13th team in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Seven of those previous 12 teams went on to win the championship.

Since 1996, Gregg Popovich has been at the helm of the Spurs, guiding them through four championships in a decade span. Although the Spurs have not won since 2007, they have managed to win at least 50 games for 15 straight seasons. Like Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, Popovich conducts a strict system style of team ball consequently demanding respect and discipline from every player, no matter how valuable or invaluable they are to the franchise. Known as one of the most stable and consistent franchises in North American professional sports, the Spurs have remained a powerhouse franchise throughout the 21st century.

One of the most important things that coach Popovich has preached from the start of his tenure has been team defense. The Spurs finished the regular season 4th overall in defensive efficiency at 100.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. According to Synergy Sports, the Spurs as a team allow 0.86 PPP (points per possession), third best in the league.

Offensively, the Spurs have been one of the most unselfish teams in the league for awhile now. Since the ABA-NBA merger, San Antonio is the first team to not have any player average more than 30 minutes per game. Moreover, the Spurs lead the league in assist ratio at 19.1 (percentage of team’s possessions ending in an assist). No player on the roster averages more than six assists per contest, yet at 2,064 total assists, the Spurs finished with the most total assists by any team according to NBA.com.

Since the Spurs shifted away from relying on Duncan as the main go-to guy on heavy half-court sets, they have followed the rest of the league and starting playing a more up-tempo style. Anyone that watches the Spurs usually finds an open three-point shooter wide open from the perimeter. This past season, 20.1 percent of their plays were via spot-up shooting per Synergy. Their pedigree on offense relies on Tony Parker to speed through the lane and find open shooters around the perimeter. Only 8.6 percent of their plays relied on posting up, proving how far the Spurs have gone away from halfcourt basketball.   

Like all of Spurs teams in the past, Popovich surrounds his starting five with deep benches. With the departure of Gary Neal, Aussie journeyman Patty Mills was given more responsibility of backing up Parker. Albeit Mills averaged just less than 19 minutes a game, he managed to score 10.2 points and shoot 46 percent from the field in 81 games this season. Additionally, offseason acquisition Marco Belinelli has been the perfect fit to the Spurs style of ball: capable of shooting the three and creating off the dribble. Contrasting to previous seasons when Ginobili was relied upon to do so much for the offense off the bench, the arrival of Belinelli and the emergence of Mills have lessened the pressure on aging Argentinian Manu Ginobili.  

Some may argue that 13 of the Spurs’ 20 losses have come against the other top-4 seeds in the West and top-2 seeds in the East. However, this is misleading since the Spurs rest much of their players throughout the long grueling 82 game season, and on many occasions against the elite teams. Everyone knows how little Greg Popovich and his personnel care about the regular season.

A good argument can be drawn that Oklahoma City will beat San Antonio as they did in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, but this Spurs’ team is on a mission to get back to the Finals. Sure, Kevin Durant is playing at an unbelievable MVP caliber season, but with the trade of James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s three knee surgeries in less than a year, there is too much of the unknown as to how far Durant can carry his team past the Spurs.

Even the demanding Popovich has been amazed at how this season has gone so far, given how last season ended.

“What does impress me about the group is the fact they’ve competed and gotten themselves in this position after a devastating loss in the Finals last year. I think that’s pretty impressive. I don’t think a lot of people have picked up on that, but I have. And I’m really impressed with them,” said Popovich to Mike Monroe of Express News.

With the improved depth and Popovich’s legendary presence, it is difficult to see any other team beating the Spurs four times. 

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With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

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 donít make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

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Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isnít quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, heís far more skilled. Heís an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

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One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. Itís a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire ďone and doneĒ model.

Al Jefferson Chases The Money Into The Playoffs

Al Jefferson has often been considered an overrated stat compiler in his career, but he has posted his best season and has the Bobcats in the playoffs.

Searching For Journeymen

Amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.

A Champion Is Crowned

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Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

The Draft Deadline

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UConn-Kentucky Title Game Shows Changes In College Basketball

Kevin Ollie didnít recruit most of his roster, but his offense and maneuvering of lineups have been essential to reach the championship. The Huskies starting lineup has shown a change of the times as well.

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Great weeks for P.J. Hairston, Patrick Christopher, Justin Brownlee, Ike Diogu, Scott Suggs, Kevin Murphy and more.

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