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Entering his ninth season in the NBA, LeBron James had garnered just about every accolade and trophy, from MVPs to All-Star appearances to All-NBA bids. The one thing that eluded him, an NBA championship, would finally be in his grasp by the end of the 2011-12 season.
A lockout of the players by the NBA’s owners, which began on June 30, 2011, led to the cancellation of the entire preseason as well as hundreds of regular-season games. A resolution was finally reached on Nov. 25, ending the 149-day standoff with the season shortened to 66 games and set to begin on Christmas Day.
James and the Heat made a statement on Christmas Day, handily beating the defending champion Mavericks in Dallas, before rolling to a second consecutive Southeast Division crown and the No. 2 seed in the East.
In the West, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder waged a season-long battle for the No. 1 spot that eventually went to the Spurs in the final weeks. Led by Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and a team-first mentality, the Spurs tied the Bulls with a league-best 50-16 mark.
While the Heat, Spurs, Thunder and Bulls comprised the elite of the NBA in the 2011-12 season, other once-rebuilding teams made their presence felt in the standings. Indiana, which hadn’t posted a season better than .500 since 2004-05, built off a solid playoff showing in 2011 and went 42-24 (.636), earning the No. 3 seed in the East.
The shortened offseason made for a flurry of player movement. Perhaps no move had a greater impact on a team’s fortunes than Chris Paul’s trade from the New Orleans to the LA Clippers. Behind the All-Star point guard’s floor leadership — as well as the play from reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin — the Clippers went 40-26, challenged the Los Angeles Lakers for the Pacific crown and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06.
The Utah Jazz, in the midst of a rebuild after trading franchise superstar Deron Williams to New Jersey in the middle of the 2010-11 season, made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the West.
In the postseason, two upsets stood out in the first round. The Chicago Bulls’ hopes of making the step from conference finalist in 2011 to the NBA Finals in 2012 were dashed in Game 1 of its series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Late in that game, reigning MVP Derrick Rose landed awkwardly on a drive, tearing a knee ligament. He missed the rest of the playoffs and the Bulls were ousted in Game 6.
Paul and the Clippers also scored a minor upset when they stunned the fourth-seeded Grizzlies in Game 7 in Memphis. Eventually, the Heat, Celtics, Thunder and Spurs would reach the respective conference finals, where Miami would outlast Boston in Game 7 while Oklahoma City would rally from a 2-0 series hole to top San Antonio, 4-2.
The Heat might not have made the 2012 Finals were it not for the play of James in the East semifinals and finals. With All-Star forward Chris Bosh hobbled by injury, James took over several games throughout both series (most notably Games 6 and 7 of the East finals) to drive Miami back to the title round.
James, named season MVP in the midst of the playoffs, would not be denied again on the NBA’s grand stage. After his Heat fell behind 1-0, he was simply dominant as Miami claimed its second-ever championship in Game 5. In the clincher, James became the fifth player in NBA history to record a triple-double in a championship-clinching game.
His ability to deliver in The Finals helped James to his first Finals MVP trophy and, later that summer, he was key as the U.S. Men’s National Team won its second consecutive gold medal at the Olympics, beating Spain 107-100 in the title game.
Eastern Conference first round
Boston defeated Atlanta (4-2)
Indiana defeated Orlando (4-1)
Miami defeated New York (4-1)
Philadelphia defeated Chicago (4-2)
Western Conference first round
LA Clippers defeated Memphis (4-3)
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Denver (4-3)
Oklahoma City defeated Dallas (4-0)
San Antonio defeated Utah (4-0)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-3)
Miami defeated Indiana (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Oklahoma City defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-1)
San Antonio defeated LA Clippers (4-0)
Eastern Conference finals
Miami defeated Boston (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Oklahoma City defeated San Antonio (4-2)
Miami defeated Oklahoma City (4-1)
Points — Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (28.0)
Assists — Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics (11.7)
Rebounds — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (14.5)
Steals — Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets (2.5)
Blocks — Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder (3.7)
FG% — Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks (67.9)
FT% — Jamal Crawford, Portland Trail Blazers (92.7)
3PT% — Steve Novak, New York Knicks (47.2)
Most Valuable Player — LeBron James, Miami Heat
Rookie of the Year — Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Defensive Player of the Year — Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Most Improved Player — Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic
Sixth Man of the Year — James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach of the Year — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
All-Star Game MVP — Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Finals MVP — LeBron James, Miami Heat