LeBron James could finally exhale after the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Finals to claim his first NBA championship and lift the weight of doubt off his shoulders. James and the Heat could now turn their focus to trying to repeat during the 2012-13 season.
The Heat came out firing on all cylinders. Behind James, who shot an astounding 56.5 percent from the floor and cruised to his fourth MVP award, the Heat won 66 games. That mark included the second-longest win streak in NBA history, a 27-game run that began Jan. 30 vs. Brooklyn and ended March 27 vs. Chicago.
The Chicago Bulls, the Eastern Conference's top seed in 2011-12, lost ex-MVP Derrick Rose to a torn ACL during the 2011 playoffs. He missed the 2012-13 season, dampening Chicago's hopes for a repeat run of success. The New York Knicks, though, had a revival. Fueled by the league's top scorer, Carmelo Anthony, and an offense that drained a league-record 891 3-pointers, the Knicks amassed 54 wins.
The Indiana Pacers upped their win total by seven while the Boston Celtics fell from East powerhouse to a .500 team.
In Los Angeles, the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a mix that included Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and title dreams were born. But a coaching change -- Mike D'Antoni for Mike Brown -- and injuries limited the Lakers to the No. 7 seed.
For the Clippers, the success of 2011-12 continued. The "Lob City" trio of Chris Paul, Black Griffin and DeAndre Jordan led L.A. to 56 wins and its first division title. Out in Denver, eventual Coach of the Year winner George Karl powered the Nuggets to 57 wins. Memphis set a record with 56 wins, and Golden State got back in the playoffs for the first time 2007 thanks to the play of Stephen Curry.
Come playoff time, the Nets and Bulls waged an epic seven-game series, with Chicago winning Game 7. Out West, Golden State upset Denver in six games as Curry and Klay Thompson brought the "Splash Brothers" into the national consciousness.
The Thunder were looking to repeat as Western Conference champs. But OKC's dream faltered when All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook tore his right lateral meniscus in the first round against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder won that series but ultimately fell to the Grizzlies in the semifinals.
Back East, the Heat and Pacers eventually met in the conference finals for a seven-game series. Miami vanquished Indiana in Game 7 to earn a third straight Finals berth. Out West, the Grizzlies were no match for the San Antonio Spurs, who ousted them in four quick games.
The 2013 Finals went down as one of the best in league history, despite the fact that the winner of Games 2 through 5 won by ten-plus points each game. But in Game 6, with the Spurs seconds away from a championship, the unthinkable happened.
With 20 seconds left and the Spurs up by three, James missed a 3-pointer taken early in the shot clock. Chris Bosh snagged the offensive rebound and dished to Ray Allen, who drained a corner 3 to tie the game and completely swing the series momentum to the Heat. Miami held on to win Game 6 in overtime and went on to survive Game 7 in Miami to capture their second championship in a row.
Eastern Conference first round
Miami defeated Milwaukee (4-0)
Chicago defeated Brooklyn (4-3)
Indiana defeated Atlanta (4-2)
New York defeated Boston (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Oklahoma City defeated Houston (4-2)
Memphis defeated L.A. Clippers (4-2)
Golden State defeated Denver (4-2)
San Antonio defeated L.A. Lakers (4-0)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Miami defeated Chicago (4-1)
Indiana defeated New York (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Memphis defeated Oklahoma City (4-1)
San Antonio defeated Golden State (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
Miami defeated Indiana (4-3)
Western Conference finals
San Antonio defeated Memphis (4-0)
Miami defeated San Antonio (4-3)
Points -- Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks (28.7)
Assists -- Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics (11.1)
Rebounds -- Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (12.4)
Steals -- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (2.4)
Blocks -- Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (3.0)
FG% -- DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (64.3)
FT% -- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (90.5)
3PT% -- Jose Calderon, Toronto Raptors (46.1)
Most Valuable Player -- LeBron James, Miami Heat
Rookie of the Year -- Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Defensive Player of the Year -- Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Most Improved Player -- Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Sixth Man of the Year -- J.R. Smith, New York Knicks
Coach of the Year -- George Karl, Denver Nuggets
All-Star Game MVP -- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Finals MVP -- LeBron James, Miami Heat