The 50 Most Important NBA Moments of 2012

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 25, 2012

The 50 Most Important NBA Moments of 2012

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    This past year, the NBA produced plenty of moments that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. Split-second highlights, landscape-altering personnel moves and affirmations of greatness will reverberate throughout the annals of history, and all of them will have "2012" tacked on next to them.

    We couldn't have asked for much more to be packed into the surprisingly short span that was the 366 days of 2012.

    So, which stand out because of their importance? Which ones will change basketball in the future?

    Highlights, memorable games and shocking moments are important because they're memorable, not because they're inherently important. These types might find themselves featured in the next 50 slides, but it's more important to me when something changes the game. 

    When a moment alters the landscape of the Association, the history of this wonderful game, the way its played or even the way we think about basketball, then it is truly important. 

    Let's see how many of those truly important moments 2012 gave us.
    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current through Monday, Dec. 24.

50. Atlanta Hawks Win in Quadruple-Overtime

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    There wasn't much of a lasting impact for either team—other than an increased level of fatigue during an already grueling schedule—but this game was important for both the Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Jazz because it was a historic game. 

    It was only the ninth quadruple-overtime game in the NBA's history and the first since 1997, when the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers battled it out. 

    The Hawks, playing their third game in three nights, were paced by Joe Johnson's 37 points, but he was only one of seven Atlanta players in double-figures. 

49. Metta World Peace Elbows James Harden

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    Every time I watch this replay, I can't help but feel absolutely stunned. How could anyone do this to a fellow basketball player, much less do so and then refuse to take the blame for it? 

    Metta World Peace elbowing James Harden squarely in the side of the head didn't end up having any major impact on the success of either player's career, but it was a scary moment that will be remembered for quite some time. 

    Other than that, though, there isn't much long-term importance to worry about here. 

48. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, March 23, 2012.

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    It's hard to imagine a game with more incredible performances than this double-overtime thriller between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    If you don't check out this box score, you're missing out. 

    Kevin Love had 51 points and 14 rebounds with seven made three-pointers, and he couldn't even spark his team to victory. 

    The combination of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant was just too much to overcome as the duo combined for 85 points and became the first pair of teammates to each top 40 points in the same game twice during the same season. 

47. Golden State Warriors Take Smite-a-Dwight to an Extreme

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    On Jan. 12, Mark Jackson had his Golden State Warriors foul Dwight Howard intentionally throughout the game. Even though it kept the Dubs in the contest, it wasn't the greatest move. The word "mockery" keeps coming up in my mind. 

    Dwight ended up with 45 points and 23 rebounds in the 117-109 victory by the Orlando Magic, making 21 of his 39 free throws in the process. He tied Shaquille O'Neal's record for most free-throw attempts in a single game, but broke Wilt Chamberlain's regular-season mark by five. 

    Let's just hope that nothing similar happens in 2013. 

46. Iman Shumpert Becomes 2wo 1ne

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    When Iman Shumpert released his first mixtape on Dec. 21 under the name "2wo 1ne," I pulled it up and expected to end up laughing at the young New York Knick's attempt to become a rapper. After all, that's the traditional narrative after releases by athletes-turned-rappers. 

    However, that's not at all what happened. 

    While there were some letdown tracks among the 21 he included ("Do You Love Me?," "Perfect Woman," "Supaphly," "The World" and "Honorbale Thoughts," I'm looking at you), the results were overwhelmingly positive. 

    Shumpert has a solid flow, and he spits out intelligent and provocative lyrics that leave you engaged and pleased throughout the listening experience. 

    At the very least, I expect to see more releases from Shumpert, but this could pave the way for other talented athletes making it into the music biz. 

45. New Hall of Fame Inductees

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    It's always important when the Hall of Fame adds new members. 

    The 2012 class was highlighted by Reggie Miller, but also included Mel Daniels, Ralph Sampson, Chet Walker and Jamaal Wilkes. 

    Now when we discuss the legendary careers of these players, we can add a certain descriptor in front of their names: Hall of Famer. 

    It's a much-deserved reward for a handful of stellar basketball careers. 

44. San Antonio Spurs Fined for Resting Starters

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    The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat were gearing up for a nationally televised showdown when Gregg Popovich decided that he'd bench Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green for the contest to give them some extra rest. 

    That decision drew the ire of David Stern, who decided to fine the organization $250,000 for Popovich's decision. Yikes. 

    Personally, I hate that Stern felt the need to do so. Why does he have control over Popovich's handling of his best players? 

    If San Antonio felt that it was beneficial for them to essentially throw this game—and ironically enough, the Spurs almost won anyway—then it was the coach's decision to make. 

    My biggest regret from this sequence, though? I just wish that the 25-year-old Green had been listed as a "DNP-OLD." 

43. DeMarcus Cousins Suspended Indefinitely

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    After he was benched and told to remain in the locker room for the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers, DeMarcus Cousins was suspended indefinitely by the Sacramento Kings.

    It's not the first time that Cousins has been suspended, and it's hard to believe that it will be the last. The big man from Kentucky has displayed a lot of promise during his brief NBA career, but he's also established himself as a player who doesn't always use that thing that sits on his shoulders.

    Fortunately for Cousins, he was reinstated after missing only one game:

    DeMarcus Cousins banished 'indefinitely' from the Kings for a total of one game.I love the term indefinitely.

    — jose3030 (@jose3030) December 25, 2012

    So, why is a one-game suspension one of the 50 most important moments of 2012?

    Cousins is one of the most talented players in the league, and this saga will end up having significant long-term impact. Either he gets his act together and starts living up to that potential, or he's going to continue to fall out of favor with the Sacramento organization. 

42. Dunk Contest Underwhelms

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    The 2012 Slam Dunk Contest didn't feature much star power with a lineup of Paul George, Chase Budinger, Derrick Williams and eventual winner Jeremy Evans. 

    Once more, the contest was filled with props and tired dunks, failing to leave an indelible mark on viewers. The enduring image in my mind was George's glow-in-the-dark dunk, but that's about it. 

    It's becoming clear that the once-entertaining contest is quickly losing its luster. 

    Could this be the edition that prompts change?

41. Kevin Love's New Contract

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    For now, signing Kevin Love to a four-year contract extension seems like a great thing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And on the surface level, it definitely is.

    However, David Kahn didn't squeeze everything possible out of this contract, and that could come back to bite the franchise.

    If you dig a little deeper, you realize that the notoriously stubborn Love has an opt-out clause that he could exercise to become a free agent after the 2014-15 season.

    We could be revisiting this one frequently in just a few short years.  

40. Blake Griffin Haunts Pau Gasol's Nightmares

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    This is the first time you'll be seeing a Blake Griffin highlight, but it certainly won't be the last. And really, there are two highlights contained in this one slide. 

    Pau Gasol is still trying to forget that this game ever happened. 

    Something tells me he won't be able to for years. 

39. Kevin Love Wins Three-Point Contest

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    Kevin Love's victory at the All-Star weekend's three-point contest is just further confirmation that the NBA is trending more and more toward a league that requires a big man who can stretch the court. 

    It's an astounding feat that Love can continue to be one of the league's top rebounders while still beating the rest of the stacked field from the perimeter. 

    Winning the trophy is a nice feat, but it's only an important because of what it means in terms of where the Association is headed. 

38. Rajon Rondo Almost Goes 20/20/20

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    Rajon Rondo is no stranger to gaudy stat lines, but his performance against the New York Knicks still manages to stand out. 

    The Boston Celtics floor general recorded 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists in the victory, allowing him to join Jason Kidd as one of only two players to top 15 in all three categories since the turn of the century. 

    It was just the latest example of his well-rounded game and ability to affect the proceedings in a multitude of ways. 

37. Nicolas Batum's 5x5

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    Thanks to Nicolas Batum, there have now been 16 five-by-fives recorded since the records started in 1985. 

    When he recorded 11 points, five rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and five blocks, he became the seventh person to hit the necessary marks in each category without the benefit of an overtime period. 

    Julius Erving, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Vlade Divac, Andrei Kirilenko and Marcus Camby came first, but Batum was the latest to do so in the Portland Trail Blazers' 95-94 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. 

36. Charlotte Bobcats Can't Win

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    The 2011-12 season will live in infamy for the Charlotte Bobcats, who set the all-time record for regular-season futility with a putrid 7-59 record. 

    Nothing went right for the team, easily the worst in all of the NBA during the lockout-shortened season. 

    For the sake of the poor Bobcats, I won't bring up any of the details. 

35. Gerald Green Elevates

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    This alley-oop windmill by Gerald Green was the best dunk of the season and will remain an enduring highlight for quite some time. 

    No one that stands less than 8-feet tall should be able to jump high enough to look directly at the rim without the aid of either a ladder, step stool or trampoline. Yet that's exactly what Green did. 

    This play trails only one other highlight from either the 2011-12 season or the early portion of the 2012-13 campaign, and that's mainly because Green isn't known for as many highlights as the player on the next slide.

34. Blake Griffin Mozgovs Kendrick Perkins

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    Call it an offensive foul all you'd like, but no whistle was blown against Blake Griffin.

    Therefore, this remains one of the best dunks you will ever see. It's also the play that firmly established the high-flying power forward for the Los Angeles Clippers as the NBA's premier highlight generator. 

33. Dirk Nowitzki Has Surgery

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    Dirk Nowitzki had missed games before during his long NBA career, but he'd never been sidelined for an extended period of time. Knee surgery in October changed that and knocked him out of action until he returned for a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 23.

    It's obviously a big deal when a superstar goes down, but the Dallas Mavericks didn't fall completely out of contention while he was watching from the sidelines. A 12-15 record doesn't put them where Dirk would like, but it's not like they've already been eliminated from the postseason. 

    Plus, his absence allowed O.J. Mayo to assert himself as one of the better scorers in the NBA.

32. Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks

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    The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks have displayed such intensity when they've met during the 2012-13 season that you might've confused their regular-season games with playoff contests. 

    If this wasn't a rivalry before, it certainly is now. 

    After the season opener between the two New York-based squads was postponed, the two teams haven't failed to produce memorable games in any of the three ensuing contests. We've had game-winners, overtime and great performances all around. 

    Even though it's the early stage of the burgeoning rivalry, it's not too soon to call games between these two teams must-watch contests. 

31. Chris Paul Getting to 5K

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    With a pass to Blake Griffin and the subsequent and-one finish by the Los Angeles Clippers power forward, Chris Paul recorded the 5,000th assist of his career. And it didn't take him long to do it. 

    Only Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton took less time to reach the milestone. Last I checked, that wasn't a bad set of names to be a part of. 

    Perhaps the most telling part of this sequence, though, was CP3's reaction. He didn't even know why the fans in the Staples Center were cheering, as you can tell quite clearly by reading his lips when he's speaking to Griffin. 

    Paul always stays in the moment during his games, immersing himself completely in the action so that every move he makes matters. It's just like him to not even recognize his own greatness while he's still focused on the game. 

30. Center Position Eliminated from the All-Star Ballot

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    Starting with the 2013 All-Star Game, the ballots for the Eastern and Western Conferences will not make voters select two guards, two forwards and a center. 

    Thanks to the dearth of true centers in the league, fans will now get to select two guards and three frontcourt members. Centers can still make it, but it's now possible to have three small forwards in the starting lineup, for example. 

    Dwight Howard didn't like the decision, but we have yet to see what sort of impact this rule change will create. 

29. Ray Allen Changes Teams

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    Even though Ray Allen was only on the Boston Celtics from 2007 onwards, it seemed like he was born to play in green.

    That made it all the more strange when his public feud with Rajon Rondo led—although we don't know exactly how much of a factor their disagreements were—Allen to sign with the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference power that was quickly becoming a major rival of the C's. 

    Allen has made a significant impact as a role player for the Heat, and he should continue to do so throughout his first year at South Beach.

28. Barclays Center Opens

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    After Jay-Z officially opened up the Barclays Center with a series of eight concerts, the Brooklyn Nets' new arena was ready for business. 

    The first regular-season game took place on Nov. 3 and featured the Nets take down the Toronto Raptors 107-100. Originally, the home opener was supposed to feature Brooklyn and the rival New York Knicks, but Hurricane Sandy got in the way of that plan. 

    There are sure to be plenty of memorable games within the walls of this arena. 

27. Mike D'Antoni Takes over for the Lakers

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    Only a few games into the 2012-13 regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers decided that they'd had enough of Mike Brown. Perhaps they just needed a scapegoat for the disappointing start to the season. 

    Bernie Bickerstaff filled in admirably as the Lakers searched for a new coach and eventually settled on the offensive mastermind that is Mike D'Antoni. 

    The results have been better than they were under Brown, but the jury is still out on the new head coach in Lakers land. 

    Just don't ask Phil Jackson about it. 

26. Ryan Anderson's Busy Year

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    Ryan Anderson gets a two-for-one special on his slide, despite the fact that he's far more adept at draining three-pointers than converting and-ones. 

    The power forward dominated from the outside, raining down triples on the opposition during the 2011-12 season for the Orlando Magic. As a result, he was named the league's Most Improved Player. 

    But that's not where his 2012 story arc ends. 

    During the offseason, Anderson was traded from the Magic to the New Orleans Hornets, where he's continued to maintain his offensive excellence in new threads. He's going to be a crucial part of the rebuilding efforts, unless he's traded to a contender like the Los Angeles Lakers. 

25. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love Go Down

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    You can see the unfortunate play that caused Ricky Rubio to tear his ACL during the second half of the 2011-12 season at left. That, along with Kevin Love breaking his hand, tempered the expectations in 2012-13 for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

    Without arguably their two best players—Nikola Pekovic, Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko have certainly had something to say about that—the Wolves weren't supposed to be able to stay in playoff contention. 

    As we hit the holidays, though, the Wolves sit at 13-12, by no means out of the postseason race. More importantly, both stars are back in the lineup. 

    Had the start to the campaign been more disastrous, this pair of events would have ranked significantly higher. 

24. Brooklyn Nets Trade for Joe Johnson

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    The Brooklyn Nets traded for Joe Johnson on July 11, just a few days into Danny Ferry's tenure as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks. In return, the Hawks received Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams and a draft pick. 

    Although Johnson hasn't looked like the All-Star he's been over the last few years during the early portion of his time with the Nets, he's picked up his play of late and looks poised to make a positive impact in 2013. 

    The Nets were the ones who received the best player, still, the move might turn out to work more in the Hawks' favor. Ferry masterfully cleared up cap space for future acquisitions while ridding the franchise of an albatross-like contract. 

23. Carmelo Anthony Scores 22 in the First Quarter

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    Nothing spoke more to the futility of the Los Angeles Lakers or to the greatness of the New York Knicks early in the 2012-13 season than Carmelo Anthony's scoring outburst when the two teams squared off in Madison Square Garden mid-December. 

    Although Kobe Bryant's 31 points topped Melo's tally of 30, the latter's 22-point first quarter put enough separation between the two. 

    It was just the latest chapter in an ever-growing resume that Anthony is compiling as he shoots for both a title and an MVP award. 

22. Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers, Game 4

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    After the Miami Heat scored only 75 points in back-to-back games against the suffocating defense of the Indiana Pacers, they found themselves trailing in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, 2-1.

    Of course, a big deal was made of this, and it seemed like the Heat would be knocked out of the postseason prematurely for the second year in a row. 

    Well, LeBron James didn't exactly subscribe to that narrative. He instead decided to take over in Game 4, despite the fact that it was within the hostile environment of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

    James completely dominated the Pacers, recording 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. It's tough to carry a team more than he did, and he needed to while Chris Bosh sat out with his strained abdominal. 

    The best player in basketball scored or assisted on 62 of the Heat's 101 points, accounting for a higher percentage of his team's points than he had at any other point during the 2011-12 season. 

    And this is the guy who wasn't supposed to be clutch.

21. John Hollinger to the Memphis Grizzlies

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    The man who invented PER is taking his talents to the Memphis Grizzlies.

    John Hollinger has long been one of the best and most consistent NBA writers on the interwebs, so losing him is a huge blow to those of us who've counted on him for quality writing day in and day out. However, it is a terrific opportunity for him to prove his worth in the league itself. 

    With his great analytic mind, Hollinger could one day be known both as the inventor of countless groundbreaking statistics and the man who paved the way for other writing-to-NBA transitions. 

    Those of you who have either been following my work for some time or know me personally shouldn't be at all surprised by this hiring's presence in the rankings:

    Why do we get the feeling that @fromal09 is especially giddy about this?…

    — Bleacher Report (@BR_NBA) December 13, 2012

20. Los Angeles Clippers Come Back Against the Memphis Grizzlies

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    If you started watching the NBA last year and were blissfully ignorant of the history of the game, you might think that the Los Angeles Clippers were a model franchise. 

    However, despite their current success, the Clippers, of course, have been the laughingstock of the league more than anything else throughout their history. 

    In my mind, their Game 1 comeback victory against the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening series officially changed that and put the embarrassing past, well, in the past. These Clippers are true contenders this season and may very well be the best team in the league. 

    I would describe the game to you, but I can't do it any more justice than the embedded video will. Just watch.

19. Rajon Rondo's Assist Streak

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    Until Rajon Rondo got into a fight with Kris Humphries in a game versus the Brooklyn Nets, the talented point guard simply couldn't manage to record single-digit assists. 

    Dating back to the 2011-12 campaign, Rondo picked up at least 10 assists in 37 consecutive games. Only Magic Johnson has ever had a longer streak, topping Rondo's mark by nine games. 

    There's no telling whether or not Rondo can put together a similar run, but this first one was impressive enough. It's become abundantly clear that no player in the league has better facilitating skills than this floor general. 

T18. Damian Lillard to the Portland Trail Blazers

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    Damian Lillard is turning out to be one heck of a steal, despite his lofty position as the No. 6 pick of the 2012 NBA draft. 

    The Portland Trail Blazers handed the reins to him from the first game of the 2012-13 season, and they haven't regretted it yet. He's shown off plenty of offensive talent, and the ice water flowing through his veins has allowed him to come up big down the stretch in a couple of contests. 

    Although the bench is preventing the Blazers from contending right now, Lillard has given every indication that he's going to be the franchise point guard for a long time. 

T18. New Orleans Hornets Draft Anthony Davis

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    The New Orleans Hornets bucked the odds (three teams had better chances) to land the No. 1 pick in the June draft and then used the pick well, adding Anthony Davis to the roster. 

    Although a concussion and an ankle injury have limited The Brow's time on the court for the future Pelicans, he's been sensational when he's on it. Davis appears to be a player unlike any we've seen before, especially now that his offensive game is coming along smoothly. 

    The former Kentucky Wildcat will be a star in the future, and he's locked into the Hornets' future. 

16. James Harden Wins Sixth Man of the Year

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    Doesn't it look a bit strange to see James Harden back in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform? He certainly thinks so, judging from the expression on his bearded face. 

    Even though he's dominating for the Houston Rockets now, don't forget the otherworldly year he enjoyed off the Thunder bench. 

    Harden was the league's top sixth man during the 2011-12 season, averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on 49.1 percent shooting. His efficiency was even more astounding because of his tendency to get to the line and convert at an 84.6 percent clip. 

    There really wasn't another option for Sixth Man of the Year. Lou Williams wasn't even close, despite earning the second-most votes. 

15. Mike Woodson Takes over in New York

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    After Mike D'Antoni resigned from his role as the head coach of the New York Knicks, Mike Woodson was elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach. After a successful end of the season, he was retained, and the "interim" tag was dropped. 

    If anything, this has been one of the most overlooked reasons for the Knicks' success. 

    Woodson's defensive philosophy have meshed perfectly with his team's skills, and he's had the team humming along for quite some time now. 

14. Steve Nash Leaves the Phoenix Suns

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    Steve Nash was the Phoenix Suns. Yes, he was just one member of the roster, but he was the Suns. 

    It wasn't shocking when the aging point guard decided to leave in pursuit of a new, promising opportunity elsewhere, but it was a little bit surprising when Nash ended up going to the Los Angeles Lakers. You know, because the Lakers and Suns have had a bit of a rivalry through the years. 

    A broken leg has kept us from seeing what type of impact Nash will have on his new team, although that will certainly become abundantly clear when the calendar flips to 2013. 

13. Kevin Durant Takes Over Against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of WCF

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    Kevin Durant scored 36 points against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, but it was the last seven minutes of the game that truly stood out. 

    The reigning scoring champion scored 18 of his points in those final minutes, including a remarkable run of 16 consecutive points for the Thunder. 

    He just couldn't miss, even overshadowing Serge Ibaka's 11-of-11 night from the field. 

    This was the true turning point in the Thunder's come-from-behind series victory over the red-hot Spurs. 

12. Tyson Chandler Wins Defensive Player of the Year

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    Tyson Chandler almost single-handedly turned the New York Knicks from a defensive sieve into a capable defensive force. Carmelo Anthony continues to be the team's best player, but the center is still the most important one, just as he was during the 2011-12 campaign when he was rewarded with the Defensive Player of the Year award. 

    I had to say "almost single-handedly" because Chandler didn't spark the turnaround with only one hand. He used both his left and his right. 

    Chandler provides a tremendous anchor in the interior of the Knicks' half-court sets, allowing his perimeter players to attack much more aggressively as he provides an elite safety net in the paint. Plus, he continues to be one of the best pick-and-roll defenders out there. 

11. Kevin Durant Wins Another Scoring Title

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    Isn't this getting kind of boring? 

    Kevin Durant continued to rack up the scoring titles during his young NBA career, winning his third in three years after Kobe Bryant sat out the final day of the regular season. His 28.0 points per game were just enough to get the job done. 

    The Durantula has gotten even more efficient this year, averaging just 0.1 points per game fewer while taking 2.6 fewer shots per contest. 

    Durant was averaging 27.9 points per game going into the Christmas matchup with the Miami Heat, good for third in the league behind Kobe and Carmelo Anthony. 

10. Kobe Bryant Hitting 30K

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    The shot itself—a turn-and-face jumper on a drive into the lane—wasn't that impressive, but it was the latest bit of confirmation for what's been an incredible basketball career. 

    Kobe Bryant became the youngest player in basketball history to cross the 30,000-point threshold, increasing his career-points lead over the rest of the players in Los Angeles Lakers history in the process.

    Other than Kobe, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have ever hit this impressive scoring milestone. 

9. Kyrie Irving Wins Rookie of the Year

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    Even though he had just a bit of college experience under his belt, Kyrie Irving was drafted at No. 1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft. The young point guard quickly proved that it was the right decision. 

    Irving, when healthy, enjoyed one of the more spectacular rookie seasons in recent memory for the Cavs, averaging 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game on 46.9 percent shooting from the field. 

    The only unanimous selection to the All-Rookie First Team, Irving did more than just win Rookie of the Year. He established himself as a bona fide star in this league. 

8. LeBron James Wins MVP

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    After averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game while leading the Miami Heat to a stellar 46-20 record during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, LeBron James was named the league MVP for the third time in his career. 

    It was unquestionably the right decision and a nice bit of validation after posting a ridiculous 30.80 PER on the year. 

    With the award, LeBron became the seventh player in NBA history (with Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) to win at least three MVPs in his career. 

7. James Harden to the Houston Rockets

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    At the start of the 2012 campaign, did you ever think that you'd see James Harden and Kevin Durant striding down the court in different uniforms? 

    Well, that absurd possibility became a reality when James Harden and Kevin Martin were the centerpieces in the huge late-October trade. It was the rare example of a trade that turned out to be mutually beneficial. 

    The Houston Rockets received a go-to scorer who could become the face of the franchise, while the Oklahoma City Thunder replaced a great bench scorer with another while freeing up Serge Ibaka to have more of an offensive impact. 

    While the ramifications of this shocking move have yet to become fully clear, the early returns have been positive for both squads. 

6. LeBron James' ECF Game 6 vs. Boston

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    The stakes had never been higher for LeBron James. 

    Facing elimination in the Boston Garden after three straight defeats at the hands of the Boston Celtics, LeBron was up against both a potent team and a crowd filled with absolute vitriol. It didn't matter. 

    The Miami Heat were in control from the beginning to end in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals behind LeBron's incredible line of 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on 19-of-26 shooting from the field.

    He dominated in post-up situations and knocked down six of his first seven shots en route to 14 points in the first quarter. Another 16 points in the second kept this game from ever feeling like it was in doubt. 

    LeBron has put together a number of masterpieces, but this ranks right up there with the best of them. It was on this day that LeBron made the leap and became the unquestioned "man" in the NBA, both in the regular season and now the postseason.

    For a league that loves promoting its stars, it was undeniably huge that LeBron lived up to the massive stage. 

5. Linsanity

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    It's hard to pinpoint the specific moment that Linsanity reached its apex, but that's only because there were so many memorable occurrences during Jeremy Lin's incredible run as the starting point guard of the New York Knicks.

    Was it the very beginning, when he was setting records for success in his first few starts while taking the world by storm? Was it the game-winner against the Toronto Raptors? Was it something else entirely?

    Regardless of the absolute best moment, Linsanity as a whole had quite a bit of importance.

    First, it was a cultural phenomenon. That's important enough in and of itself. But Jeremy Lin also provided hope for plenty of other unknowns fighting their way into the league, and he'll continue to be an inspiration in the future.

    When a short time at the helm of a popular team ensures that your name is very well immortalized, you've done well.  

4. Derrick Rose Goes Down

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    If you're a Chicago Bulls fan, please avert your eyes and click through to the next slide. I don't want to be responsible for your sadness during the holiday season. 

    When Derrick Rose went down with a devastating knee injury during the first game of the 2012 postseason, the Bulls' championship hopes essentially went up in smoke. They ended up losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1, looking nothing like the No. 1 seed they'd earned during the regular season. 

    Rose still has yet to return, and we aren't sure whether or not he'll be at full strength before the 2012-13 campaign draws to a close. 

3. Dwight Howard and Other Stars Traded

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    On Aug. 10, the Dwightmare before Christmas ended, thus terminating a prolonged saga that annoyed just about every NBA fan out there. No one could make their minds up, and Dwight Howard was in the news way too much. 

    However, despite the frustration, the ensuing trade changed the landscape of the entire NBA.

    Dwight went across the country from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers, but he wasn't the only star player to change teams. Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum went to the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.

    While Bynum hasn't played and both Iggy and Dwight have underwhelmed, this was still a huge move.  

2. David Stern Announces Retirement

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    Whether you love him or hate him, it's hard to deny the incredible impact that David Stern has had on this league. 

    He's dramatically expanded the league, both within the country and internationally, truly helping to make the NBA both a year-round and global sport.

    His announcement that he will retire in February 2014 and cede control of the league to deputy commissioner Adam Silver is a major one. It's hard to imagine the Association without Stern at the helm. 

    For a terrific look at Stern, make sure to check out Zach Lowe's piece on the commissioner, and Silver, on Grantland. It should be considered a must-read for any NBA fan. 

1. LeBron James Gets His First Ring

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    This picture says it all, even if it came months after the moment in question. 

    When LeBron James led the Miami Heat to a title in the 2012 NBA Finals against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, he finally filled the major hole on his resume. The monkey was off his back, if you will. 

    In the Year of LeBron, no story was bigger or more important than the greatest player of our generation finally getting the first ring of his career. Now we get to see how many he'll add to the total. 

    Will 2013 be another year with LeBron in the forefront of the Association, or will someone else step up and steal away the spotlight? 

    I can't wait to find out.