2. Around the Association
MVP: Will Barton. With starters mostly resting, the offensive-minded forward got a longer leash than usual. He finished with a team-high 23 points (on 20 shots) to go with 10 rebounds.
Turning point: The rarely used Victor Claver scored eight of his 12 points in the last three minutes and the Blazers won going away.
That was ... a healthy year. After recent seasons have seen the Blazers decimated by injury, this season four of the five Portland starters -- Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez -- played all 82 games.
MVP: Zach Randolph played like a man on a mission, wreaking havoc on Dallas' interior to the tune of 27 points and 14 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end. The Mavericks simply had no answer for his strength and skill on the block.
LVP: Dallas needed a big game from Sam Dalembert, but due to foul trouble and turnovers he played only eight minutes in regulation. With Dalembert out of the game, Memphis feasted on the Mavericks' front court to the tune of 20 offensive rebounds.
X factor: Grit-'n'-grind basketball got the Grizzlies to the line 25 times against the Mavs (compared to just 11 attempts for Dallas). Two of those attempts came in the form of game-tying and game-winning makes from Mike Conley with 1 second remaining in overtime.
MVP: Trey Burke's 3-pointer with 1:03 to go in the second overtime gave the Jazz a five-point lead, and he was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line after that. He finished with 32 points and nine assists in 48 minutes of action.
LVP: Is it cruel if I say Kevin Love? The Wolves' star forward shot a dismal 4-for-15 from the floor and was dominated on the defensive end by Jeremy Evans. He missed a big free throw with 57 seconds to go in the final overtime that would have made it a one-possession game, as well.
That was ... unexpected: Both teams slept through the first three quarters, but the game became fun, all of a sudden, down the stretch in the fourth and through the two overtime periods. A crazy end to a long season for both franchises.
MVP: On a night when no other player from either team passed the 20-point plateau, Brandon Knight repeatedly darted to the rim on his way to 31 points. He also pitched in seven rebounds and four assists, but could not keep the Bucks from losing a franchise-record 67th game.
X factor: Atlanta's balanced ball movement. The Hawks held a 29-25 edge over the Bucks in assists despite no single player getting five assists. DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott and Kyle Korver led the team with four each. Atlanta consistently swung the ball to the open man, routinely beating the rotating defense with crisp passes.
That was ... a fitting sendoff: Bucks owner Herb Kohl got a standing ovation from the BMO Harris Bradley Center crowd during a first-quarter timeout. Earlier in the day, Kohl announced that he had sold the team to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens (pending league approval) for $550 million and donated $100 million toward construction of a new arena.
MVP: Jordan Hill was aggressive early and often against a Spurs team sitting Tim Duncan. Hill finished with game-highs of 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor and 14 rebounds.
X factor: With the Spurs resting or limiting some of their key rotation players, offensive rhythm was scarce. San Antonio finished the night shooting just 41 percent from the field.
That was... something of a high-note finish for the Lakers' season: It has been anything but a fun ride in Lakerland this season, but a solid victory against the team with the league's best record is a fine way to kick off what will be an interesting offseason for Los Angeles.
MVP: Tyler Zeller put the icing on a much-improved sophomore campaign, which saw him drastically improve his shooting percentages from almost every zone. He finished Wednesday night with 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, two dimes and two swats in just 26 minutes.
X factor: Who says Kyrie and Dion can't share the Cavs' backcourt? They both logged 27 minutes Wednesday with Kyrie converting 6 of 12 shots and Dion 7 of 12. They led a balanced attack that put the Nets to bed early in the third.
That was.... definitely a Nets squad lacking some calories: Whether motivated by rest or seeding (they will face the Raptors instead of the Bulls), the Nets weren't too interested in winning this game. They bookend a roller-coaster season with losses at the Q.
MVP: Cole Aldrich set career highs with 16 rebounds, five blocks and 40 minutes played and tied a career high with 13 points and two steals. His shot may look like it's operated with a hand crank, but for one night at least, Aldrich was a dominant force in the paint.
Turning point: After trailing by as much as 21, the Knicks ran off a 22-2 run covering the end of the second and the beginning of the third quarter, aided greatly by a slew of sloppy Raptors turnovers.
That was ... third in the East: It seems like someone told Dwane Casey that the Bulls' loss to the Bobcats meant that, regardless of the outcome, they had locked up the third seed, as Toronto went deep into its bench for the final 12 minutes.
MVP: Bradley Beal dropped a game-high 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting, scoring in a variety of ways. Boston's perimeter defenders struggled to stick to him around an assortment of smart cuts and screens.
X factor: Boston attempted a somewhat stunning number of 3-pointers, shooting 7-for-30 from behind the arc. Washington, meanwhile, shot efficiently inside the arc, finishing 62 percent on 2-pointers.
That was ... mutually beneficial: With Washington's win and Brooklyn's loss, the Wizards clinched fifth in the Eastern Conference. Boston, meanwhile, finished tied for fourth in the lottery odds with Utah after the Jazz beat Minnesota in double OT.
MVP: Tyreke Evans played bully ball against the Rockets' smaller guards, getting into the lane anytime he wanted on his way to 25 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. On a team that was missing its four leading scorers, Tyreke made it a priority to get guys who can't create for themselves some wide-open looks.
X factor: A common narrative last season was that Austin Rivers had one of the worst seasons for a rookie in NBA history. Tonight he capped off a sophomore season in which he improved greatly, scoring 18 points on 11 shots while dishing out eight assists.
That was ... a nice rest: Houston gave James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons the night off as the team prepares to host the Portland Trail Blazers this weekend in Round 1 of the playoffs. In a series that will feature two of the three highest scoring teams in the NBA, fresh legs might make the difference.
MVP: Kemba Walker did go 0-for-6 from 3-point territory, but he was still solid against Chicago's stout defense. His 22 points and eight assists without a turnover meant that Charlotte had some offense down the stretch, unlike the Bulls.
That was ... surprising: Carlos Boozer played only 24 minutes Wednesday, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau opted to use Taj Gibson instead. Boozer scored 14 points, but Gibson scored only four and was not up against a tough PF to defend anyways.
X factor: Al Jefferson headed to the locker room in the third quarter with a knee contusion. He returned to play in the fourth quarter, but was largely ineffective with just 10 points total, raising uncertainty about Charlotte's playoff hopes.
MVP: With coach Frank Vogel electing to rest most of his starters except George Hill and Roy Hibbert, who both played in the first half, that gave players such as Evan Turner and Luis Scola a chance to shine.
LVP: You hate to harp on the big fella because it isn't all about scoring, but you have to think that Vogel would have liked to see Hibbert (four points, 1-for-7 shooting) have a more productive game offensively.
That was ... a purposeful defeat: With the loss, the Magic clinched the third-best odds in the 2014 NBA draft lottery. They can only hope that the pingpong balls can bounce in their favor to secure the No. 1 pick.
MVP: It was a battle of rookie shooting guards and the Suns' first-year player came out on top. Archie Goodwin finished with a career-best 29 points on a scorching 11-of-13 shooting. He bested Ben McLemore, who posted career highs in points (31) and assists (five).
X factor: The Suns powered their way to victory on the shoulders of a hot fourth quarter. Phoenix shot 12-of-17 for better than 70.6 percent from the field. They also outscored the Kings 33-25 in the last quarter.
That was ... an excitingly meaningless game. Both the Suns and Kings are on the outside-looking-into this year's postseason field. However, they put on an entertaining show for a sold-out Sleep Train Arena crowd. Also, this was the first game in four years that fans didn't have to deal with the specter of relocation looming over Kings.
MVP: Thaddeus Young. In the final game of the season, and potentially Young's last game with the Sixers, the forward showed what makes him so valuable. Young did a bit of everything on the floor for Philly, putting up 20 points while pulling down 9 rebounds.
Defining moment: The third quarter. The Sixers got out in the passing lanes a caused several Miami turnovers that they were able to convert. The SIxers outscored the Heat 29-15 in the quarter, and coasted for the win in the fourth.
That was ... familiar: The Sixers started their historic (in several ways) season with a win against the defending champion Heat, and they end it the same way. There was no LeBron James or Chris Bosh for Miami, which made it a little easier for the Sixers.
And The HabersTrophy Goes To ...
Ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of the year again.
As the regular season wraps up Wednesday night, it's time to hand out another batch of 2013-14 statistical superlatives. Yes, I'm talking about Per Diem's second annual HabersTrophy awards.
Last season, in the inaugural edition of the HabersTrophies, I dug deep into the NBA StatsCube, SportVU and Synergy databases to uncover 13 of my favorite statistical nuggets of the season. This time, I'm feeling a little more generous, so we'll add 12 more to the pile.
Here are the HabersTrophies for 2013-14.
Can Lakers Stop The Spinning?
Pau Gasol has been in a bad way for the past few weeks. Vertigo might seem like a fancy word for dizzy, but anyone who has ever suffered from it knows the truth.
It's scary. Up is sideways. Down is backward. After an hour, all you want is to make the spinning stop.
"It feels like you're seasick," Gasol said on his walk out of Staples Center after a recent game, "like you're floating in a cloud."
His eyes were glassy. Staying upright wasn't easy. A security guard walked with him, just to make sure.
There is a clarity that forms in desperate moments like this, a distillation of what matters and what doesn't. After the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers history, one that's left everyone in the franchise and the city feeling as dizzy as Gasol, this feels like one of those moments.
Bogut-less In April
Warriors fans will grouse about what could have been against the Spurs last season in the Western Conference finals, but in reality, Golden State had no shot of winning that series. It wasn't just because the Spurs were great, which they were and continue to be. It was because Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry were spent.
After the series was finished, both gingerly limped to their exit interviews. They had been pushing through searing foot ailments, buying breaks from the pain with injections. The end brought more relief than regret because there was little else to give. The end also brought hope, because imagine what this team could be at full health. Curry and Bogut might have walked like old men sauntering off into the sunset, but their pain-stricken accomplishments promised new beginnings.
Forecast: Kevin Durant for MVP
We called this race last week with Kevin Durant as the clear-cut MVP winner. Now, a week later, our forecast sees KD winning in a landslide.
Oklahoma City's superstar received a whopping 76 first-place votes (out of 85) from our panel, with Miami's LeBron James earning just eight first-place votes and the Clippers' Blake Griffin snagging one.
Yes, it would appear King James' reign as league MVP is over. And it's not due to voter fatigue.
Durant had another career year, and is a lock for capturing his fourth league scoring title (he's now at 31.9 PPG) in the past five seasons. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds per game and set a career-high mark in assists with 5.5 per game. Most importantly, he carried the Thunder to a high seed in the loaded Western Conference.