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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.

Pacers Can't Flip Switch Against Hawks In Game 1

After failing to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks in the first half on Saturday night, the Indiana Pacers laid an egg fitting for Easter weekend in the third quarter of their playoff opener. The Hawks cruised to a 101-93 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Pacers raced out to the NBA’s best record ahead of the All-Star break on the strength on dominant second-half runs. After struggling as the regular season wound down, barely holding onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers allowed the eighth-seeded Hawks to steal home court advantage without much difficulty.

Atlanta took control of the game in the third and didn’t let go. The only one of the sixteen playoff teams with a losing record, they hung 30 points on the top-rated defense in the regular season -- Indiana allowed just 99.3 points per 100 possessions. Led by Jeff Teague, who had a playoff career-high 28 points, the Hawks shot 50% from the field in the quarter, went 9-for-10 from the foul line and committed just two turnovers.

The issues for the Pacers were two-fold. They couldn’t stop the Hawks and their offense wasn’t nearly efficient enough to keep them in the game. While the Pacers worked to scrap together points, Teague and Paul Millsap combined for 27 points on 15 shots in the decisive quarter. 

Indiana went 5-for-19 in the third and turned the ball over five times. Paul George, an early-season MVP candidate, couldn’t get anything to fall as the game tilted towards the road team. George went 1-for-7 from the floor, including 1-for-4 from three.

Hawks From Deep

It was well documented heading into the series that the Hawks would lean heavily on the three ball. Only the Houston Rockets attempted more three-pointers per game than Atlanta (25.8), who ranked 13th in percentage (.363).

The Pacers defend the perimeter well, when on their game, running opponents off the line -- teams averaged just 19 threes per game against Indy. They held opponents to 34.5% from deep, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NBA. 

Atlanta hoisted 30 three-pointers in Game 1, a high rate, but they weren’t overly efficient. They hit 11, shooting 36.7%, which is right around where you’d expect given their performance during the season. Instead, the Hawks pounded the bigger Pacers in the paint, going 24-for-29 from the line. They averaged fewer than 22 free throw attempts during the regular season.

Hometown Heroes

In a battle of Indianapolis point guards, Jeff Teague dominated George Hill.

Teague’s career night was highlighted by 10 trips to the line. Hill and the Pacers’ other guards couldn’t keep up with Teague’s speed or his shifty moves, resulting in desperate fouls simply to avoid getting burned.

Remember the 2011 playoffs when a young George shadowed Derrick Rose? Frank Vogel should consider a scheme where George is the primary defender on Teague, especially since Hill and Lance Stephenson are capable of hanging with Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Lou Williams. 

It couldn’t hurt as the Hawks are most efficient offensively when Teague is in control and his teammates are taking advantage of a defense that has been stretched out.

On The Boards

The Pacers have a size advantage, as they do against most teams, but it wasn’t on full display Saturday night. They had a +4 rebounding differential in Game 1, but the gap will have to be bigger if they are going to win two of the next three games to earn back home court.

Atlanta had the fourth-lowest rebounding percentage in the NBA, while Indiana had the third-highest percentage.

The Hawks’ frontcourt trio of Carroll, Millsap and Pero Antic grabbed 25 rebounds in 48 chances (data from NBA.com). George, David West and Roy Hibbert corralled 21 of 35 potential boards. Indiana had some defensive switch issues that kept players out of rebounding position, which is one of the reasons the frontcourt had so many fewer chances. On the bright side, they had a promising advantage in percentage of rebounds grabbed (60% to 52%).

It doesn’t help that the Hawks attempt so many threes. The long rebounds are far less predictable and there were at least a handful of times in this game when the ball simply bounced over a few jumping Pacers back to the Hawks.

Body Language

For the first two minutes, the Pacers brought the fight to the Hawks. Over the remaining 46 minutes, Indiana waited for the game to turn in their favor instead of going out and grabbing hold of the momentum.

In a disturbing trend, the body language was terrible as adversity piled up. They closed out the season with a strong final week after a disappointing loss to the Miami Heat, seemingly righting the ship enough to continue sorting out their issues while dispatching of the Hawks.

It was clear just a few seconds into the second half that they haven’t gotten rid of enough bad habits to look past a team that only made the playoffs because the New York Knicks dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome in the final month of the season. The Pacers entered the season with title aspirations. The Hawks entered it thinking about the lottery.

In a vacuum, you’d have guessed the reverse when watching Game 1.

Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

Relative to the Nike Hoop Summit, which features real defense and some hope of evaluating players thanks to the international format, the Jordan Brand Classic is mostly just another all-star dunk contest. The lack of defense was particularly apparent this year as both teams combined for over 300 points in 40 minutes.

Occasionally, the Jordan Brand Classic has been a chance to evaluate some player who we didn’t see much of previously. In 2011, Otto Porter was an elite prospect who had not played on the AAU circuit, so the JBC invited him to see him compete against the top players. In 2013, Cameroon born Joel Embiid truly had his coming out party, as we saw the first real signs that he might be a Top 5 pick in the NBA draft.

This year, there were few players we had not seen featured in the previous high school all-star games. Daniel Hamilton, a tall guard prospect for UConn, looked like a natural scorer, calmly scoring 10 points in 11 minutes (including 2 of 2 shooting from beyond the arc.) Rick Pitino would be happy to see that in a game with virtually no defense, Louisville recruit Shaqquan Aaron grabbed 3 steals, which allowed Aaron to have a nice 6-of-7 evening from the floor. (In one of those moments of strange bedfellows, the Louisville recruit Aaron seemed to have great chemistry with Kentucky recruit Tyler Ulis.) And Georgetown recruit LJ Peak had one of the games signature dunks in the final minute.

But none of those players really made us reconsider where they are ranked nationally. Perhaps the breakout moments belong to Indiana recruit and scoring guard James Blackmon. Blackmon has played in the other all-star games, but after spending much of the Nike Hoop Summit on the bench, Blackmon was aggressive on Friday night. The player known for his three-point shooting was empty from deep, but 10 of 11 inside the arc, including some nice intermediate jumpers.

Or perhaps, the breakout was really by the players we already knew were great. While Paul Biancardi noted that Duke’s Jahlil Okafor has not always had great conditioning, or a great full-court presence, we were dazzled by a number of plays where Okafor beat the defense in transition or hustled for a secondary-break put-back dunk. And as LaPhonso Ellis pointed out, if Okafor adds that to his game, it could be lethal. If Okafor can tire out an opposing starting center with Duke’s high octane attack, his high skill level on post moves will eat backup centers alive.

I thought the most impressive play of the whole game came at 16:44 of the first half, when Duke PG recruit Tyus Jones hit Okafor with a bounce-pass for a transition lay-up. The reason the play was so spectacular was that Jones released the bounce-pass from the half-court stripe and hit Okafor perfectly in stride at the free throw line. But then at 16:46 of the second half, Kentucky recruit Karl Towns one-upped him. Towns had a behind-the-back pass from the half-court stripe for a lay-up. Towns pass was probably a bit of a fluke, but it still went down as the more jaw-dropping play.

Regardless, the fact that Okafor and Jones are already building chemistry is a huge benefit for the Blue Devils. You can’t really tell in a game like this (because there really was no defense), but there’s a reason most people list Jones as the top PG prospect in America right now. Jones just has an uncanny ability to get into the lane and find teammates in position to score.

But we’ve been raving about Duke’s incoming players for weeks. I also think it is time to admit that Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are going to be very good for Kansas next year. Sure, Alexander and Oubre do not have nearly the same potential as Embiid or Wiggins. But there is no reason those two players cannot be just as dominant at the college level. Alexander is already a high-motor, aggressive rebounder, and that’s exactly the Embiid skill that Kansas most needs to replace. (While we fell in love with Embiid’s surprising post moves, the reality was that Embiid wasn’t a huge scorer for Kansas last year. But Embiid was one of the nation’s top defensive rebounders.) And while Wiggins was a raw athlete with length, that’s exactly what Oubre brings to the table. He doesn’t have nearly the same upside as Wiggins, but if you are looking for a player with a 7’2” wingspan, and natural athleticism to slide into a wing role at the college level, Oubre is perfect. And in a game where just about every key prospect scored in double figures, the Duke and Kansas prospects shined the brightest.

The Myles Turner Question

Myles Turner did not play in the Jordan Brand Classic after twisting his ankle in the Nike Hoop Summit. But Turner did give a sideline interview, and Turner came across very well. He appeared polished, bright, and mature.

We sometimes think of these kids who make late decisions as indecisive, immature, or egotistical. But the reality is that the late-deciders are probably making the smartest decisions of anyone. They get to see what each team’s roster really looks like. Could Turner have committed to Kentucky or Arizona last fall? Perhaps, but by waiting he now gets to see that Kentucky and Arizona both have crowded frontcourts, with no room for major minutes for an elite center.

And the seven teams Turner has evaluated could all use him.  (Of course if he joins Kansas or Duke, those two teams will just have an embarrassment of riches across the lineup.)

But while I was flipping through some data this weekend, I thought of a related question. If I was an elite prospect, would I want to commit to a coach that tends to use a deep bench, or a coach that tends to use a short bench and give his starters major minutes to develop chemistry? I think if I was an elite prospect, I think I would prefer to play for a coach that traditionally plays a short bench. Here are how coaches in the elite conferences have allocated their playing time in the last eight years. The tables show the average bench minutes for these coaches in those eight years (minimum three seasons.)

Average Percentage of Minutes Given to Bench

(Coaches that utilize a Deep Bench)

Coach

Current Team

APM

Mike Anderson

Arkansas

38.2

Dana Altman

Oregon

36.1

Bruce Pearl

Auburn

34.8

Frank Martin

South Carolina

34.8

Tubby Smith

Texas Tech

34.8

Brian Gregory

Georgia Tech

34.5

Gregg Marshall

Wichita St.

34.0

Tad Boyle

Colorado

33.8

Billy Kennedy

Texas A&M

33.3

Kevin Willard

Seton Hall

33.2

 

Average Percentage of Minutes Given to Bench

(Coaches that utilize a Shallow Bench)

Coach

Team

APM

John Thompson

Georgetown

26.5

Pat Chambers

Penn St.

26.1

Jim Boeheim

Syracuse

25.3

Herb Sendek

Arizona St.

25.3

Fran Dunphy

Temple

25.0

Bo Ryan

Wisconsin

24.6

John Beilein

Michigan

24.4

Thad Matta

Ohio St.

24.3

Mike Brey

Notre Dame

23.3

Fred Hoiberg

Iowa St.

22.9

Quick Notes: You see more coaches that use full-court pressure on the upper list, but that doesn’t have to be the case. VCU’s Shaka Smart has a relatively tighter bench (APM of 31.0) and uses full court pressure. On the lower list, you see a lot of coaches that tend to get credit for developing less heralded players into stars. But the reason they are good at building strong offenses is that they tend to play short rotations that strongly feature their best players.

This list says a player like Myles Turner would be better off choosing Ohio St. relative to say, Texas A&M, because Thad Matta will build a tight rotation of quality players around Turner, and feature Turner in the middle. Obviously there are other huge factors, such as tempo, style of play, and the ability of the coach to develop previous top prospects. But I do wonder whether the fact that a coach like John Thompson tends to really ride his star players and turn them into draft prospects doesn’t help with Georgetown’s recruiting. Win or lose, star players want to play.

But the reality is that Turner doesn’t have to make guesses about these types of factors. He doesn’t have to guess how he will fit into a team’s lineup. He’s already spoken to the coaches and teams on his list and he knows how he will be used. By waiting until 4pm on April 30th, he is making the most informed decision of anyone.

Not every D1 player can wait to give a verbal commit or sign a letter of intent, but if you can, it sure seems to make a lot of sense.

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.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. For the Raptors, it came after the Rudy Gay trade in freeing up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Nets fixed their season by embracing small ball.

Spurs Remain The Surest Playoff Bet

Like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Gregg 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.

Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

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.

NBA Playoff Fantasy: Play For $100,000 In Prizes

The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.

As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility.

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?

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isnít just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the playerís character.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 7-April 13)

On the strong weeks by Seth Curry, Darius Morris, Patrick Christopher, Troy Daniels, Cameron Jones, Ognjen Kuzmic and more.

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

Itís easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

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

Should Kentucky have played more zone this year, why Niels Giffey made a lot of fans happy, and how Napier survived a few frustrated moments to lead his team to victory.

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

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.

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