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When Shaquille O’Neal was traded to Miami before the 2004-05 season, he promised a title for Heat fans. With help from Dwyane Wade, he was able to deliver on that pledge in 2006.
Mother nature played a role in the 2005-06 season as one of the worst natural disasters in American history, Hurricane Katrina, flooded and destroyed large parts of New Orleans. That forced the Hornets to flee their home stadium (New Orleans Arena) and play many of their games in Baton Rouge, La. and Oklahoma City.
Luckily for Hornets fans, a new floor general (Chris Paul) brought excitement and success to a franchise that was one of the league’s worst teams a season earlier. Paul ran away with the Rookie of the Year trophy, garnering all but one first-place vote. That vote went to Jazz guard Deron Williams, who gave Utah fans hope that brighter days would soon be ahead.
The Heat spruced up their roster before the season, landing defensive stopper James Posey, point guard Jason Williams and scoring forward Antoine Walker in a five-team mega-deal. They also signed free-agent point guard Gary Payton to round out a title-contending crew. The moves paid off as Miami again finished atop the Southeast Division and had the East’s second-best record.
Out West, the defending-champion Spurs amassed the West’s best record while the Suns showed some resiliency behind their leader, Steve Nash. Phoenix lost star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire to micro-fracture knee surgery before the season. Still, the Suns — buoyed by a huge jump in production from offseason acquisition Boris Diaw — stayed in the thick of the West race thanks to Nash, the season’s eventual MVP. He again led the league in assists (10.5 per game) and kept the Suns’ uptempo offense on track despite Stoudemire’s injury.
On Jan. 22, 2006, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant put in one of the greatest single-game performances in NBA history. He had 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, marking the second-highest single-game total by a player since Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
Once the playoffs began, two new teams found their way to the championship series. Miami rolled through the early rounds and knocked off the 64-win, defending conference-champion Pistons in the East finals to reach their first Finals.
Their opponent was the Dallas Mavericks, led by German forward Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki was a force throughout the West playoffs, particularly in the West semifinals against the Spurs. It was there that he delivered clutch bucket after clutch bucket in a Game 7 win in San Antonio.
In The Finals, the Mavericks grabbed a 2-0 series lead and were in prime position to go up 3-0 until Wade took over late in Game 3. Averaging over 39 points in the final four games, Wade led the Heat to four straight wins and their first NBA championship. For his scoring exploits and leadership, Wade was named Finals MVP.
Eastern Conference first round
Cleveland defeated Washington (4-2)
Detroit defeated Milwaukee (4-1)
Miami defeated Chicago (4-2)
New Jersey defeated Indiana (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Dallas defeated Memphis (4-0)
LA Clippers defeated Denver (4-1)
Phoenix defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-3)
San Antonio defeated Sacramento (4-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Detroit defeated Cleveland (4-3)
Miami defeated New Jersey (4-1)
Western Conference semifinals
Dallas defeated San Antonio (4-3)
Phoenix defeated LA Clippers (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
Miami defeated Detroit (4-2)
Western Conference finals
Dallas defeated Phoenix (4-2)
Miami defeated Dallas (4-2)
Points — Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (35.4)
Assists — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (10.5)
Rebounds — Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (12.7)
Steals — Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats (2.5)
Blocks — Marcus Camby, Denver Nuggets (3.3)
FG% — Shaquille O’Neal, Miami Heat (60.0)
FT% — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (92.1)
3PT% — Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons (45.8)
Most Valuable Player — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
Rookie of the Year — Chris Paul, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
Defensive Players of the Year — Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Most Improved Player — Boris Diaw, Phoenix Suns
Sixth Man of the Year — Mike Miller, Memphis Grizzlies
Coach of the Year — Avery Johnson, Dallas Mavericks
All-Star Game MVP — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Finals MVP — Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat