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Two words could best sum up this season: The Decision.
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James shocked people everywhere — and in Cleveland in particular — by leaving the familiar confines of his home state to ink a multi-year deal with the Miami Heat. Teamed with incumbent Dwyane Wade and fellow new addition and All-Star Chris Bosh, the Heat quickly became one of the most scrutinized and reviled teams ever. Miami started out slowly, winning just nine of its first 17 games and gaining few sympathizers. But they shook it off to finish 58-24, good for second in the East.
There were other notable storylines in the East as well aside from Miami’s rise and James’ move. The Washington Wizards got their first look at their No. 1 pick from the 2010 Draft, John Wall. He did not disappoint and put together a solid first season, averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game as Washington continued to build for its future.
Another long-awaited rookie debut also took place, but this time out in the Western Conference. Blake Griffin had missed his true rookie season in 2009-10 when he suffered a stress fracture in his left knee. He suited up at last for the LA Clippers in 2010-11 and immediately took the franchise and league by storm. Yes, his pure stats were outstanding (22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.8 apg) and he was a rookie All-Star and eventual Rookie of the Year. But it was his athletic finishes and powerful dunks around the rim that garnered him attention and deserved praise.
First place in the Eastern Conference wasn’t had by Miami, but rather the Chicago Bulls, who finished with their best record since Michael Jordan graced the United Center. They were led by third-year guard (and MVP) Derrick Rose, who stunned many with his turn from All-Star performer to marquee superstar in such short order.
The Western Conference was the story of essentially five teams — the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks — vying for the top spot. That honor went to the Spurs, but they suffered a stunning 4-2 first-round upset at the hands of the young, upstart Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers remained in the West mix, but couldn’t get past the conference semifinals and were swept by Dallas. The Thunder took another step forward in their ascent, but fell to the Mavs in the West finals — a run to The Finals few outside of Dallas banked on.
In the East, the Bulls and Heat rolled along in the playoffs, with Chicago dispatching the Pacers (in Game 5) and Hawks (in Game 6) to successive rounds to reach the East finals. The Heat dominated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and ousted the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the East semis to face the Bulls. However, James and Co. were on another planet in that series and defeated the Bulls, 4-1, to reach the franchise’s first Finals since 2006.
The Mavericks weren’t given much of a chance in The Finals against a stacked Miami team. But Miami couldn’t withstand the veteran savvy and clutch play of future Hall of Famers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. In the end, it was Nowitzki who exorcised his postseason demons to win the Larry O’Brien trophy, leaving many to wonder if LeBron would ever achieve the ultimate goal of winning a ring.
Eastern Conference first round
Atlanta defeated Orlando (4-2)
Boston defeated New York (4-0)
Chicago defeated Indiana (4-1)
Miami defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Western Conference first round
Dallas defeated Portland (4-2)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated New Orleans (4-2)
Memphis defeated San Antonio (4-2)
Oklahoma City defeated Denver (4-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Chicago defeated Atlanta (4-2)
Miami defeated Boston (4-1)
Western Conference semifinals
Dallas defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-0)
Oklahoma City defeated Memphis (4-3)
Eastern Conference finals
Miami defeated Chicago (4-1)
Western Conference finals
Dallas defeated Oklahoma City (4-1)
Dallas defeated Miami (4-2)
Points — Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (27.7)
Assists — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (11.4)
Rebounds — Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (15.2)
Steals — Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets (2.4)
Blocks — Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2.6)
FG% — Nene Hilario, Denver Nuggets (61.5)
FT% — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (93.4)
3PT% — Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs (45.7)
Most Valuable Player — Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Rookie of the Year — Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
Defensive Player of the Year — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Most Improved Player — Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Sixth Man of the Year — Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Lakers
Coach of the Year — Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
All-Star Game MVP — Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Finals MVP — Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks