PREVIOUS SEASON | NEXT SEASON
With memories of their Finals loss to the rival Boston Celtics and with a full year to play with Pau Gasol (acquired at the trade deadline the season before) the 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers were on a mission from the first day of the season.
Changes were afoot across the NBA as new faces and success stories emerged league-wide. In Chicago, rookie guard Derrick Rose — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft — proved worth all the struggles the Bulls endured in 2007-08. He burst on the scene averaging 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game to run away with Rookie of the Year honors. The Bulls improved by eight wins and gave the contending Celtics a scare in the first round before losing in Game 7.
Also in the East, a big man took a big step forward in Orlando. Dwight Howard was already well known for his exploits as a Slam Dunk Contest winner and All-Star. This season, he put it all together to collect his first of three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards as the Magic finished 59-23 (their best mark since 1995-96) and rose into a new class in the East. The Magic became known for their inside-out attack featuring fellow All-Stars Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis.
LeBron James had already captivated NBA audiences with his exploits thus far in his career as an All-Star and All-NBA performer. The 2008-09 season saw him take a much bigger turn as well as he became the first Cleveland Cavaliers player to win MVP honors. Behind him, the Cavs piled up a league-best 66 wins and James averaged 28.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 7.2 apg in the process.
However, much of 2008-09 was about the Lakers, Kobe Bryant and his teammates. Bryant dazzled the NBA once again and put on a show on one of its biggest stages in February. A Feb. 2 date at Madison Square Garden saw Bryant light up the Knicks for 61 points — an arena record — in one of the NBA’s most well-known venues.
Capping off a 65-win regular season, the Lakers entered the playoffs as the co-favorites and survived a seven-game Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets and a six-game battle with the Carmelo Anthony-led Denver Nuggets in the West finals to meet the Magic in The Finals.
In the East, Dwight Howard led the Magic to The Finals after upsetting the NBA’s best regular season team, the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, in six games. But Howard and Co. were no match for a hungry Los Angeles squad as the Lakers dominated The Finals in five games, giving Bryant his fourth NBA championship.
Eastern Conference first round
Atlanta defeated Miami (4-3)
Boston defeated Chicago (4-3)
Cleveland defeated Detroit (4-0)
Orlando defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Dallas defeated San Antonio (4-1)
Denver defeated New Orleans (4-1)
Houston defeated Portland (4-2)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Utah (4-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Cleveland defeated Atlanta (4-0)
Orlando defeated Boston (4-3)
Western Conference semifinals
Denver defeated Dallas (4-1)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Houston (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
Orlando defeated Cleveland (4-2)
Western Conference finals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Denver (4-2)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Orlando (4-1)
PPG — Dwyane Wade, Miami (30.2)
Assists — Chris Paul, New Orleans (11.0)
Rebounds — Dwight Howard, Orlando (13.8)
Steals — Chris Paul, New Orleans (2.8)
Blocked Shots — Dwight Howard, Orlando (2.9)
FG% — Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix (60.9)
FT% — Jose Calderon, Toronto (98.1)
3PT% — Anthony Morrow, Golden State Warriors (46.7)
MVP — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Rookie of the Year — Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Defensive Player of the Year — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Most Improved Player — Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
Sixth Man of the Year — Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
Coach of the Year — Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
All-Star Game MVP — Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers/Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix Suns
Finals MVP — Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers