No more four games in five nights or back-to-back-to-backs.
The demanding schedule saw many key players suffer devastating and nagging injuries throughout the season.
The Hawks and the Clippers will surely feel those losses as they head into the playoffs without Al Horford and Chauncey Billups, respectively.
Without a real training camp and preseason, teams with new coaches and players were limited and struggled due to a lack of practice time and a better chance to prepare for the season.
Unless, of course, you had the ability to turn the basketball world upside down overnight because your name was Jeremy Lin or Steve Novak, and you played for the New York Knicks.
Some teams simply ran out of time for a chance to make up ground, or ran out of gas.
Just ask Houston and Phoenix.
As expected, the veteran teams took advantage of the truncated season while the younger and newer teams failed to improve and toiled in mediocrity, or worse.
Much, much worse if you’re the Charlotte Bobcats.
In any case, all the anticipation is over and the playoffs are set to begin on Saturday.
Two teams in each division – Bulls and Spurs – tied for the best record in the league with an impressive record of 50-16. Should the teams meet in the finals, home-court advantage would go to the Bulls, who won their only meeting against the Spurs.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: ”The journey began with an improbable comeback victory — and one goal in mind — against the Lakers on Christmas Day in Los Angeles. One chapter of it concluded Thursday night at the United Center where, before the Bulls’ 107-75 victory over the Cavaliers, Brian Scalabrine reminded all of that goal. ”Banner No. 7,” Scalabrine said in a rousing pregame speech thanking fans. The next chapter of this condensed, lockout-shortened season begins at noon Saturday against the 76ers, who dropped to the eighth spot and thus a first-round playoff matchup against the Bulls after losing to the Pistons. The Bulls, who assured themselves of the league’s No. 1 overall seed, own homecourt advantage for as long as their playoff run lasts. ”We’re not concerned about records, seedings, standings,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’re just concerned about doing the right things every day. The results will take care of themselves if we do those things.” The Bulls took two of three from the 76ers during the regular season and will be heavy favorites to advance to a second-round matchup against the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series. The Bulls also set a franchise record by allowing just 88.2 points per game. Is now the time to mention the previous record of 89.6 points got set in 1997-98, the last of the six championship seasons?”
If you need a model for consistency, look no further than the team that has made the playoffs for 15 consecutive seasons and set a record with 13 consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins.
This for a team that started the season just 12-9.
Assumed to be getting too old with the window of opportunity closing, the Spurs took complete control of this season with a combination of great offense and defense and timely veteran additions, and perhaps are looking even better than some of the championship teams from the earlier parts of the decade.
They played Game #66, like so many before them, without many of their key players, and it didn’t matter thanks to the performance of Patty Mills.
From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News: “Given a rare starting turn at point guard, Patrick Mills poured in 61 points in two nights, helping lift the Spurs to pair of victories and, improbably keep alive the franchise’s streak of 50-win seasons. That was all well and good. Come noon on Sunday, when the top-seeded Spurs open a first-round playoff series with Utah at the AT&T Center, the clock is sure to strike midnight on Mills’ Cinderella run. “I’m going to venture a guess that Tony Parker will be our starting point guard come playoff time,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said. But what a show it was while it lasted. Playing in place of Parker for the second night in a row, Mills produced quite an impression of the four-time All-Star on Thursday, setting career bests with 34 points and 12 assists in the Spurs’ 107-101 victory over Golden State at Oracle Arena. With it, the Spurs clinched 50 wins for an NBA-record 13th consecutive seasons, breaking a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers. That it came in a season lockout-shortened to 66 games was remarkable even to the players and coaches who produced it.”
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant, who led the league in scoring for much of the season, had a chance to go wild and capture the scoring title away from Kevin Durant against the Kings, but chose to sit the game out instead.
From Bill Plaschke of Los Angeles Times: “After 16 years, I thought it was impossible to be startled by anything Kobe Bryant did with a basketball. Until Thursday, when he gave it up. He could have soared, yet decided to sit. He could have made individual history, yet decided to focus on a team championship. He could have played the star, yet decided to be the leader. Needing to score 38 points in a meaningless season finale against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night to win his third individual scoring title, Bryant instead decided to rest for the upcoming postseason. He has scored as many as 38 points seven times this season, and could have done it in three quarters against the woeful Kings, but would not. He could have punked Oklahoma City rival and scoring leader Kevin Durant, but did not. He could have even become the second-oldest player to win a scoring title behind Michael Jordan, but will not. On a night when much of Los Angeles thought he might take 100 shots, he decided to take zero.”
Back in the East, the Hawks made sure they would clinch home-court advantage in their first round match against the Boston Celtics with a victory over the Mavericks who seem to be limping into the playoffs with four losses in the last six contests.
From Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “With home-court advantage in the playoffs within their grasp, they wasted little time in grabbing the postseason edge. Thanks to a fast and furious first quarter the Hawks will open their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Celtics at Philips Arena. The Hawks led by as many as 23 points in the first quarter and disposed of the defending NBA champion Mavericks 106-89 on Thursday night in the regular-season finale. There was no need to scoreboard-watch the Celtics-Bucks game. The Hawks knew if they took care of their own business, it wouldn’t matter what was happened in Boston. “Personally, I want the home court,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said before the game. “I think that is important for this ballclub. We set out at the very beginning to try to play as well as we can and see where we were from a playoff standpoint. I’ve said it before after we lost Al [Horford], the question was could we make the playoffs… The Hawks (40-26, 23-10 home) enter the playoffs having won five of their final six regular-season games. They snapped a three-game losing streak to the Mavericks. The Mavericks (36-30) enter the Western Conference playoffs as the seventh seed and will begin a first-round playoff series against the Thunder on Saturday.”
Along the way, the Bobcats, owned by the great Michael Jordan, set the record for the worst winning percentage in NBA history with a record of 7-59.
From Howard Beck of The New York Times: “After the tumult and the injuries, the dizzying changes and the wild swings of fate, the Knicks concluded their regular season with a 48-minute exhale, a final chance to breathe before the air gets heavy and the lungs grow tight. The Knicks are heading to Miami for a playoff series that will strain their resolve, stretch their star power and ultimately define their season, if it doesn’t wreck them. The series against the Heat opens Saturday at 3:30 p.m. “I couldn’t be happier,” Coach Mike Woodson said Thursday night, after the Knicks closed the regular season with a 104-84 rout of the Charlotte Bobcats. “That’s what we play for. It was a great regular season and it’s playoff basketball time. They will be ready.” The matchup was clinched on the final night of the season, when the Knicks secured the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. It lined them up against a Heat team that is seeded second but may be the toughest in the league. Miami boasts a two-time most valuable player (LeBron James), a former finals M.V.P. (Dwyane Wade) and an experienced cast that took Dallas to the sixth game of the finals last June. The Knicks counter with Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and a cast that is still getting acquainted after a whirlwind season… The Bobcats (7-59) put up little resistance and finished with the worst winning percentage (.106) in N.B.A. history — an ignominious mark that had been held by the 1972-73 76ers, whose 9-73 record remains the worst for an 82-game season.”
- Despite ending another tumultuous season, the Raptors made sure they wouldn’t be worse than the Nets by routing them 98-67 behind Ed Davis who had 24 points and 12 rebounds. Ben Uzoh collected his first triple-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists against his former team. Playing for the last time as New Jersey, the Nets finished last in the Atlantic Division and ended the season on a six-game losing streak.
- After suffering a disappointing end to a run for the playoffs, the Rockets beat the Hornets 84-77 and finished ninth place in the Western Conference with a winning record for the third consecutive season. Chase Budinger led all scorers with a season-high 27 points. New Orleans ended its injury-plagued season as the worst team in the Western Conference.
- The Jazz are going into the playoffs on a high note after edging the Blazers 96-94 for their fifth consecutive victory. With most of the starters playing limited minutes, Alec Burks stepped up with 18 points, Jeremy Evans had 13 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, and Enes Kanter added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Portland ended its disappointing campaign with seven consecutive losses.
- The Nuggets clinched the sixth seed by dispatching the Timberwolves 131-102. JaVale McGee led seven players in double figures with 19 points. Denver goes into the playoffs having won four straight games and is set to match up against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Timberwolves managed to win just one game in the month of April.
- Playing with their B-squad, the Sixers had no chance as the Pistons dominated 108-86. Ben Gordon finished another disappointing season with 26 points including eight 3-pointers. Detroit will go home while Philadelphia gears up for its match against Chicago.
- The Heat once again sat out their Big Three to rest for the playoffs and the Wizards blew them out 104-70 to finish out the season with six consecutive victories. Maurice Evans scored 18 points and John Wall added seven points and 12 assists.
- With a chance to lock up home-court against the Clippers in the first round, the Grizzlies beat the Magic 88-76. Memphis controlled their own destiny by starting all five starters, including Zach Randolph for the first time since his return from injury. Marc Gasol led the team with 22 points, Rudy Gay added 20 points, and Zach Randolph had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
- With home-court on the line, the Celtics played all five starters to beat the Bucks 87-74. Boston needed the Hawks to lose to gain home-court, but Atlanta won, and the series against them will start on the road. Rajon Rondo went scoreless but had 15 assists and four steals to finish the season as the league-leader in assists. The Bucks ended their disappointing season with two straight losses.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can follow him on twitter @nbatupark.