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A CliffsNotes Guide to the 2012-13 NBA Season

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2013

A CliffsNotes Guide to the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    Don't worry if you weren't able to hook up 10 TVs with NBA League Pass and catch every game this season.

    I fell short of that dream too, but having a Twitter account is nearly as good.

    So many things happened during this NBA season, and a lot of it was odd and bizarre (just check out my article, "10 Most Bizarre Moments from the 2012-13 NBA Season's First Half," and then double it).

    However, "bizarre" is not the concern here. Following is the CliffsNotes version for this season, with the next 10 slides a roundup of the biggest storylines and accomplishments of the year. 

    Some things will go unmentioned, in accordance with CliffsNotes guidelines, and editing has constrained certain other notables.

    That's why the San Antonio Spurs don't even get their own slide. They're really, really good, as usual. Just when the Big Three appear to be claimed by Father Time, they excel in the clutch and bury their opponent—as usual. So boring!

    Tony Parker played well enough to deserve league MVP consideration, scoring 20 points per game on 52 percent shooting, and even as Manu Ginobili continues to slow down, the Spurs have found a tremendous talent in second-year forward Kawhi Leonard.

    Last, but most certainly not least, Tim Duncan is still the best power forward in basketball. The 37-year-old has spurred San Antonio to another NBA Finals appearance after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies.

    In two consecutive overtime games, Duncan totaled 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, three boards, an assist, a steal and a block. After those victorious OTs, the Spurs were up 3-0 and the Fat Lady started singing to Memphis.

    Aside from those boringly great Spurs, what else happened this season?

    Let's take a look.

Miami Heat Dominate; in Other News, Water Is Wet

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    LeBron James is still far and away the best player in the league.

    He fell one vote shy of becoming the first unanimous MVP in league history, solely because Boston Globe columnist Gary Washburn thought the New York Knicks would be a lottery team without Carmelo Anthony.

    Still, LeBron claimed his fourth MVP award in five seasons, a feat accomplished by Bill Russell and no one else in history, not even Michael Jordan. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had won back-to-back MVPs twice (via Associated Press).

    The Chosen One has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. At one point this season, James strung together six stunning games in which he scored 30 or more points and shot at least 60 percent from the field, an NBA record as noted by ESPN.

    As LeBron's impressive six-game streak ended with a 39-point performance, the Miami Heat extended their modest winning streak to seven games. They would not lose over the following five-and-a-half weeks.

    Their 27-game win streak became the second-longest run of success in history (check this timeline from the New York Times), and it powered them to a 66-16 record for the best mark in the league by six games.

    It should come as a surprise to no one that they're back in the NBA Finals for the third year in a row.

Kevin Durant's 50-40-90

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    While it lacks the pedigree of baseball's Triple Crown, basketball's holy trinity of shooting efficiency has long been the 50-40-90 club. That is to say, 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from three-point territory and 90 percent from the foul line.

    Kevin Durant punched his ticket to that club this season, making 51 percent of his field goals, 41.6 percent on triples and 90.5 percent on free throws. Now he's in some very elite company, joining Steve Nash (four times), Larry Bird (twice), Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki.

    Despite that admirable accomplishment, he still received no first-place votes for MVP.

    When teammate and fellow Olympian Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in the first round of the playoffs, Durant transformed into a point forward and carried the Thunder past the Houston Rockets.

    However, OKC's supporting cast failed to step up with any consistency and they fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 2.

Stephen Curry Channels Reggie Miller

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    Kiki Vandeweghe and Jon Sundvold, eat your hearts out. 

    The NBA has increasingly become a three-point shooting league, and Stephen Curry is the new king. The diminutive Golden State Warriors guard shot the lights out all year long and keyed the Dubs to a deep playoff run. He earned himself a place in the history books, however, with his prowess in the regular season.

    Curry put together one of the greatest shooting seasons of all time, averaging 45.1 percent from the field, 45.3 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.

    Certain notables have compiled more efficient seasons from behind the arc in the past: Steve Kerr in 1994-95 (89-of-170, 52.4 percent), Tim Legler in 1995-96 (128-of-245, 52.2 percent) and even Jason Kapono in 2006-07 (108-of-210, 51.4 percent). No player though, has converted treys with the same volume as Curry did this season—not Dennis Scott in 1995-96 (267-of-628) and not Peja Stojakovic in 2003-04 (240-of-554).

    Curry became a master of the pull-up trey in transition and eclipsed Ray Allen's record of 269 treys, which had stood since 2006. Curry knocked down 272 three-pointers, precisely three more than Allen, and those came on 600 three-pointers for free-wheeling (and analytical) Golden State (45.3 percent).

    The best highlight from Curry's regular season probably came in a four-point loss to the New York Knicks. With David Lee serving a one-game suspension on Feb. 27, Curry placed the Warriors on his slender shoulders and put on a mammoth performance.

    He poured in 11-of-13 from downtown and finished with 54 points at Madison Square Garden for the third-highest scoring total by an opponent in MSG behind only Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

Damian Lillard Outplays Anthony Davis

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    Last spring, the New Orleans Hornets won the NBA draft lottery.

    With the first pick in the draft, they took Kentucky's Anthony Davis, a potent pivot described by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown as a game-changer in the same class as Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain (per ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike). 

    The Portland Trail Blazers selected Damian Lillard out of Weber State University with the sixth overall pick—no big deal.

    Then the rookie won the Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend, besting the likes of Tony Parker, Jeremy Lin and Jrue Holiday. That certainly put Lillard on the radar for everyone outside of the Pacific Northwest, but his sustained excellence powered him to NBA Rookie of the Year honors.

    Playing in all 82 games, Lillard averaged 19 points and six assists, shooting 43 percent from the field and 84 percent from the foul line.

    As for Davis, he missed 18 games due to injury and averaged only 28.8 minutes when he did play. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 16.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.

    Obviously, once he's completely healthy, Lillard will indeed be a one-man wrecking crew. Whether or not he's in a class with Wilt or the Big O will remain uncertain for the next 10 or 15 years.

Lake No Show

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    The Los Angeles Lakers entered the season with the same Vegas odds to win the title as the Miami Heat at 9-4, according to the Los Angeles Times. Then the Lakers trudged through an ugly season.

    Utilizing three different head coaches (and spurning Phil Jackson), they limped their way into the postseason and somehow snagged the No. 7 seed, only to get swatted out of the playoffs like a harmless housefly by the San Antonio Spurs.

    The lion's share of the entertainment provided by the Lake Show this year benefited only the Lakers' haters and those who delighted in the downfall of a team with four future Hall of Famers  (yes, Pau Gasol will be in the HOF). Steve Nash never sustained his MVP rhythm in the Lakers' offense and Gasol nursed multiple injuries.

    The addition of moody center Dwight Howard proved to be more of a distraction than the arrival of Superman. Numerous disputes and snarky comments made headlines, and Howard even made light of his beef with Kobe Bryant in a photo of a staged fight tweeted by the Black Mamba himself.

    Adding injury to insult, Kobe's vintage season (27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game) was cut short when his Achilles tendon betrayed him with just two games left on the schedule.

    To rub further salt in the wound, the Lakers were put to shame by the L.A. Clippers the entire season, as the high-flying Clips won 56 games and the Pacific Division.

    It's lucky for the Lakers that the Memphis Grizzlies bounced Lob City in the first round, because I'm not sure Lakers' owner Jim Buss could stand watching the Clippers in a deep playoff run.

Knicks Steal Some Hardware, Fall Short

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    Sorry Kevin Durant, but Carmelo Anthony is the 2012-13 scoring champion, and the way he got there, by carrying his team on his back, makes it even more impressive.

    The New York Knicks enjoyed a full offseason with Mike Woodson as the head coach, instilling defensive intensity rather than "seven seconds or less." They opened the season by winning 18 of their first 23 games, aided immensely by the hard-nosed play of Rasheed "Ball Don't Lie" Wallace.

    However, they lost Sheed to a foot injury and stumbled at points, looking prone to inconsistency and counterproductive griping with refs.

    Following a four-game skid on a five-game West Coast road trip, they found themselves at 38-26 and sinking in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks looked to be in complete free fall, but they notched a win at the Utah Jazz as Anthony and Tyson Chandler sat out due to injury.

    Suddenly, New York became indomitable and won their next dozen games as well. Not coincidentally, Carmelo and J.R. Smith got red-hot down the stretch. 

    Anthony opened the month of April by scoring 131 points in three games and averaged 37 points for April to nip Durant for the scoring title.

    Smith compiled a nice streak of his own, shooting better than 50 percent in six straight games during the 13-game win streak. He also tallied five games of 30 or more points off the bench in March, driven by his newfound strategy of attacking the rim instead of tossing up fadeaway jumpers. 

    With that J.R. Swish took home the Sixth Man of the Year award.

    The Knicks won their first playoff series in 13 years, but then ran into a wall with the Indiana Pacers in the second round.

Rising in the West

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    They say that no one remembers the losers, but three teams in the West that lost in the first two rounds still put the conference on notice.

    The Houston Rockets landed James Harden in a blockbuster deal shortly before the season started, instantly transforming themselves into a contender. While Jeremy Lin could not continue the Linsanity in Texas, he proved more than serviceable.

    More significantly, Turkish center Omer Asik proved himself one of the league's best young pivots, and second-year forward Chandler Parsons improved by leaps and bounds to become a lethal shooter.

    Though the Rockets fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, they took them to six games and gave them a serious scare. You can bet that Houston general manager Daryl Morey has something up his sleeve for the offseason. 

    Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets provided a barnburner of a first-round series, with the Dubs shocking the third-seeded Nuggets in six games.

    When David Lee was substantially limited by a hip flexor injury, Mark Jackson went small and started sixth man Jarrett Jack in Game 2. The Warriors scored 131 points and handed Denver only its fourth home loss of the season.

    Along with Jack, Golden State has Stephen Curry (see previous slide) and Klay Thompson in the formidable backcourt. Lee earned an All-Star nod for his prowess in double-doubles. Rookie forward and second-round draft pick Draymond Green improved over the course of the season and made key contributions in the playoffs.

    Denver lacks a superstar, but fields a fine cast of athletes who can run with the best in the league. Ty Lawson looks to be on the verge of stardom, Kenneth Faried is so good that he must be called the "Manimal" and Andre Iguodala causes nightmares for opponents on both ends of the floor.

    All three squads look poised to challenge the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for Western dominance in the years to come.

Defense Almost Wins Championships

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    The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies finished first and second in defensive efficiency, as noted by ESPN, and both made it to the conference finals.

    NBA teams without a superstar, take notice.

    Due to injury, Indy lost its leading scorer from the past five seasons, Danny Granger, and still scored enough for the Pacers' stout defense to carry them to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the cusp of the NBA Finals. Similarly, the Grizz traded their leading scorer, Rudy Gay, and flourished on both sides of the ball in his absence.

    No superstar, but excellent defense. Did I mention they both made the conference finals?

    If I can ask you to set aside all sophomoric giggling for a moment, it's safe to say that size matters, even in an NBA which increasingly embraces "small ball."

    Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph provide a domineering paint presence, but Gasol's Defensive Player of the Year trophy should probably have the names of all the Grizzlies on it—especially Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince. 

    Likewise, the Pacers boasted Roy Hibbert and David West as bruising beasts on the interior. If you were heading down the lane, you might want to reconsider.

    Both teams look poised to improve next season, although personnel decisions will be crucial. Allen and West are both unrestricted free agents.

Bury My Season at Wounded Knee, Part 1

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    This offseason, Chicago Bulls fans may want to delve into some Samuel Beckett.

    That's the level of grief and suffering they experienced while waiting on the slowly healing knee of Derrick Rose to hit the court. If it was an off-off-off-Broadway adaptation, it might be called "Waiting for D-Rose."

    Only unlike Godot, D-Rose will actually show up at some point. Despite being cleared by doctors to play, Rose never gained enough confidence in his knee to play in a game.

    The Bulls played admirably all season long without their MVP point guard. Led by their excellent frontcourt trio of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls snagged the fifth seed and drew the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

    The series went the distance and concluded with Chicago stealing a rare Game 7 road victory to bounce Brooklyn from the postseason. The Bulls rolled over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the second round, but ended up getting dispatched in six games.

    Conventional wisdom dictated that Chicago might have had enough to get past Miami if Rose was running the offense, but that could just be wishful thinking. So begins a long offseason of anticipation for Bulls Nation.

Bury My Season at Wounded Knee, Part 2

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    New York Knicks' Iman Shumpert returned from his ACL injury in mid-January, and he suffered a similar injury at almost the exact same time as Derrick Rose.

    Shumpert took several weeks to recover his signature burst and hounding defense, but he eventually looked to be 100 percent and helped the Knicks immensely down the stretch.

    Perhaps the spectre of Grant Hill and Gilbert Arenas loomed large in Rose's mind. They serve as two cautionary cases of great players who returned quickly from injury and derailed their careers.

    Other players who were central to their teams, but felled by knee injuries included Danny Granger (preseason), Rajon Rondo (midseason) and Russell Westbrook (postseason).

    The Indiana Pacers had enough quality to make up for the loss of Granger. However, the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder both played hopelessly one-dimensional basketball without their All-Star point guards. Not surprisingly, each team was sent home early from the postseason festivities. 

    Some had the gall to apply the so-called Ewing theory to Boston as they reeled off 14 wins in 18 games following Rondo's injury, but the Celtics' ensuing 7-16 skid put that theory to bed.

    Don't even get me started on Andrew Bynum. After the Philadelphia 76ers swapped Andre Iguodala to get the mercurial big man, he failed to play in a single game for the Sixers, who finished four games out of the playoffs.

    Bynum's hair provided his chief contribution this season.

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