ATLANTA - FEBRUARY 6: NBA Commissoner David Stern poses next to a statue of Dallas Mavericks' all-star Dirk Nowitzki #41 made of Legos during the NBA All-Star 2003 Jam Session on February 6, 2003 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo By David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)
LeBron goes off
The Miami Heat struggled early in the season as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh learned how to share the ball. But on Feb. 3 in Orlando, LeBron reprised his old Cleveland role as a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 51 points on 17-of-25 shooting in a 104-100 win. He had only three other 40-point games all season.
How bad were the Cleveland Cavaliers without LeBron James? They lost 26 straight games to set an NBA record, finally ending the skid with a win over the Clippers on Feb. 11 . The Cavs finished with 19 wins, 42 fewer than the season before.
Three at last
Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics became the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made with his 2,561st on Feb. 10, breaking Reggie Miller's record. He did it in three fewer seasons — more than 300 fewer games — than Miller.
End of an era
Jerry Sloan, a fixture on Utah's bench for 22 years, shockingly resigned on Feb. 10. Though he downplayed reports that conflicts with star guard Deron Williams prompted his decision, the Jazz later traded Williams to the Nets. Sloan, 69 at the time of his resignation, is third on the NBA's all-time coaching wins list with a record of 1,221-803.
After sitting out the previous season with a knee injury, Blake Griffin entered the NBA like a slamming, jamming force of nature. His dunking exploits included a leap over a car to win the league's Slam Dunk contest during the All-Star weekend. He averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds while earning the Rookie of the Year award.
Star of stars
With the NBA All-Star Game in his home arena, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant put on a show, scoring 37 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to lead the West over the East on Feb. 20. He tied Bob Pettit with his fourth All-Star MVP award.
Half of Denver's season was consumed by Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. Finally, on Feb. 22, the high-scoring forward got his wish when the Nuggets dealt him to the Knicks in a blockbuster, three-team, 13-player deal (which also included draft picks and cash). The Knicks and Nuggets made the playoffs but both lost in the first round.
Cry me a river
In a season full of both domination and frustration, the Heat may have hit an emotional low with an 87-86 home loss to the Bulls on March 6. A fourth straight defeat and yet another late-game failure carried over to the locker room, where Erik Spoelstra said players shed tears. He was trying to make the point that the Heat cared about their problems; instead it was taken as another sign of emotional instability and weakness. Who cried? Was it LeBron? No one's telling.
Lot to Love
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love had 24 points and 12 rebounds against the Utah Jazz on March 11. It was his 53rd straight double-double, the longest such streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. The high point came on Nov. 12, when Love went for 31 and 31 against the Knicks. He led the league with 15.2 rebounds per game.
With their season and their psyches unraveling, the Heat faced another late-game deficit against the Lakers and the prospect of a six-game losing streak on March 10. But instead of gagging down the stretch, Miami made all the big plays in the final minutes and beat the defending champs for the second time. It was a nice confidence boost for the Heat, who went on to finish the regular season on a 15-3 run.
Shaq hangs it up
Shaquille O'Neal made an enormous impact on the NBA in his 19-year career, but his final season was an injury-riddled and forgettable one in Boston. The big fella announced his retirement June 1 and later signed a deal with TNT to join Charles Barkley as an NBA analyst.
Young and talented
Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP in NBA history at the age of 22. In his third NBA season, he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Chicago Bulls to the league's best record.
Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs became just the third No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in a playoff series. Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies prevailed in six games, then pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games before losing in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Celtics beat the Heat in their first three regular-season meetings, but Miami proved superior in the Eastern Conference semifinals, winning the series in five games. Game 4 was crucial as Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 83 points and 35 rebounds in a 98-90 overtime victory in Boston.
The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers went down in flames in the Western Conference semifinals. Not only did they get swept by the Dallas Mavericks, ending the career of legendary coach Phil Jackson, but their cheap shots and flagrant fouls led to the suspension of Andrew Bynum (right) for the first five games this season.
In a battle between the last two MVP winners, LeBron James got the better of Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference finals. James was dominant in the series, averaging 27.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists while hitting a series of big shots in late-game situations. Defensively, he also helped shut down Rose in the fourth quarter of the final four games, all Miami wins.
When did the championship get away from the Heat? In the final seven minutes of Game 2 in the NBA Finals, when Miami blew a 15-point lead at home and let the Dallas Mavericks tie the series. Instead of taking a 2-0 lead to Dallas, the Heat lost control of the series and a sense of inevitability about their title.
With a chance to seize total command of the Finals, the Heat got big games from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, plus a strong defensive effort in Game 4. All that was missing was LeBron James. In a strangely passive performance, James scored just eight points, his fewest ever in a playoff game, and was little more than a spectator on the court as the Mavs rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter and evened the series with an 86-83 win.
Dallas does it
The Mavericks won the final three games of the NBA Finals to take the series in six. It was the first championship for two future Hall of Famers, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.
Welcome to the NBA
Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers had the first and fourth picks, using the latter on Texas power forward Tristan Thompson. Both players spent one year in college.
Lock it up
On July 1, after one of the most fascinating seasons in NBA history, the league's owners imposed a lockout on the players. While the sides negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement, we saw a lot of NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter and NBA commissioner David Stern. Finally, an agreement ended the lockout after 161 days, leading to a shortened season that will start Christmas day.
Chris Paul was traded to Los Angeles, all right. It just wasn't the Lakers who got him, as it appeared when the Hornets, Rockets and Lakers agreed to a three-way blockbuster deal the week before Christmas. NBA commissioner David Stern, acting in what he called the best interests of the league-owned Hornets, nixed the trade and later approved a deal that send Paul to the Clippers, perhaps changing the future of both LA franchises.
The NBA opened its shortened 2011-12 season on Christmas with LeBron James starring in a smackdown of Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. The Heat won their first four games while Dallas lost its first three, but who knows what 2012 will bring.