LeBron James and the Miami Heat finished the regular season without much competition for the top spot in the final Yahoo! Sports NBA Power Rankings.
Several Western Conference teams took turns at No. 1 during the first half of the season, but the Heat dominated the second half. The Heat claimed the top spot during a 27-game winning streak that was the second longest in NBA history. Miami finished the regular season with a franchise-record 66 wins, with James solidifying his place as the front-runner for the league's MVP award and Erik Spoelstra emerging as a coach-of-the-year candidate.
Miami Heat (66-16, previous ranking: first): After being hampered by a knee injury, Dwyane Wade looked good in Wednesday's finale with 21 points and 10 assists in 23 minutes in a LeBron-less win against Orlando.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
(60-22, previous ranking: third): It will be interesting to see if Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant
or New York's Carmelo Anthony
joins James on the All-NBA first team at forward. Anthony beat out Durant for the league’s scoring title.
3. New York Knicks
(54-28, previous ranking: second): It was more surprising when Rasheed Wallace
returned to action than when he retired Wednesday for the second time. Sheed had a stellar career, including a great “Both teams played hard” postgame interview.
4. San Antonio Spurs
(58-24, previous ranking: fourth): The Spurs won the season series 3-1 over the Lakers, their first-round opponent, with L.A. winning last Sunday without injured Kobe Bryant
. The good news for the Spurs is Manu Ginobili
[Also: Ball Don't Lie Power Rankings: First-round playoff matchups] 5. Denver Nuggets
(57-25, previous ranking: fifth): Ty Lawson is playing well after returning from injury, but can Denver overcome the loss of Danilo Gallinari
to a season-ending knee injury? Kenneth Faried
is also hampered by a major ankle injury.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
(56-26, previous ranking: eighth): With Chauncey Billups
back, the Clippers have the NBA's deepest roster. You have to be impressed with Willie Green's professionalism while going from starter to reserve with Billups' return.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
(56-26, previous ranking: sixth): The Grizzlies meet the Clippers again for another gritty first-round playoff battle. Memphis forward Zach Randolph
is healthy and ready to roll.
8. Golden State Warriors
(47-35, previous ranking: ninth): The Warriors are in the postseason for the first time since 2007. Golden State went 1-3 against first-round foe Denver this season.
9. Indiana Pacers
(49-32, previous ranking: seventh): The Pacers finished the regular season poorly, splitting their last 10 games. Indiana still has the talent to be a force in the postseason and has shown flashes of greatness. It’s anyone’s guess which Pacers show up.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
(45-37, previous ranking: 13th): After enduring a season filled with drama, a coaching change and injuries that included the loss of star Kobe Bryant, the Lakers showed heart by winning eight of their final 10 to make the playoffs.
11. Brooklyn Nets
(49-33, previous ranking: 11th): Jay-Z divested his very small stake in the Nets to become a sports agent, but said in a recent song that he still owns his courtside seats. Guessing he will be sitting in those seats in the Nets' first playoff game in Brooklyn.
12. Chicago Bulls
(45-37, previous ranking: 14th): The Bulls enter the playoffs splitting their last 10 games and still without guard Derrick Rose
. It would be stunning to see Rose return in the postseason, but that's a lot of pressure.
13. Houston Rockets
(45-37, previous ranking: 10th): No playoff team hurt its own cause at the end of the regular season more than Houston, which went from a possible sixth seed to the eighth after losses to Phoenix and the Lakers.
14. Atlanta Hawks
(44-38, previous ranking: 15th): The Hawks appear to be in the final days of the Josh Smith era. The Atlanta native will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Hawks also stumbled into the postseason, losing six of their last 10 games.
15. Boston Celtics
(41-40, previous ranking: 16th): Game 3 of the Celtics' first-round playoff series against New York will be very emotional at TD Garden as it will be their first home game since the Boston Marathon bombings.
[Also: Lawrence Frank let go as coach of Pistons]
16. Milwaukee Bucks
(38-44, previous ranking: 18th): Heat beat writer Ira Winderman of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel said on Twitter that Miami will play Chicago or Atlanta in the second round. The Bucks' Twitter account responded with, "Really?"
17. Utah Jazz
(43-39, previous ranking: 12th): The Jazz fought hard, winning seven of their final 10 games, but it wasn't enough to secure a playoff spot in the West. Utah has two key free agents in forward-center Al Jefferson and forward Paul Millsap
18. Dallas Mavericks
(41-41, previous ranking: 17th): Dallas missed the playoffs two years after winning the title. Owner Mark Cuban will try to persuade Dwight Howard
and Chris Paul to leave L.A. for Dallas. It's probably best to put attention elsewhere.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
(33-49, previous ranking: 19th): Portland went from playoff contention to losing its final 13 games. Don’t be surprised if first-year GM Neil Olshey looks to make changes. Olshey made one already by waiving Jared Jeffries
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
(31-51, previous ranking: 22nd): The Wolves will be in the draft lottery for the eighth straight year and could be looking for a new coach and general manager in the off-season, too. Expect injured forward Kevin Love to still be around.
21. Toronto Raptors
(34-48, previous ranking: 25th): Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo’s big trade for Rudy Gay was a move that earned him more time in Toronto. Expect the Raptors to be a playoff team next season with Gay – and without Andrea Bargnani
Philadelphia 76ers (34-48, previous ranking: 20th): It was one of the most disappointing seasons in Sixers history. Center Andrew Bynum did not play a single game, and Doug Collins left his coaching post at season's end. You'll see him on television soon.
23. Washington Wizards
(29-53, previous ranking: 21st): The injury-plagued Wizards finished their forgettable season with six straight losses. Washington, however, has a great young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Nene needs to get healthy.
24. Sacramento Kings
(28-54, previous ranking: 24th): The Kings might have played their last game in Sacramento in an emotional loss to the Clippers on Wednesday. It's hard to tell whether the Sacramento or Seattle group has the edge on the Kings.
25. New Orleans Hornets
(27-55, previous ranking: 23rd): New Orleans announced Thursday it has officially changed its name to the Pelicans and will no longer be referred to as the Hornets. Should Charlotte take the "Hornets" name back?
26. Detroit Pistons
(29-53, previous ranking: 26th): The Pistons fired coach Lawrence Frank on Thursday after just two seasons. Detroit has had four coaches since winning an NBA championship in 2004. Detroit will have some salary cap space this off-season.
27. Phoenix Suns
(25-57, previous ranking: 27th): The Suns are contemplating keeping coach Lindsey Hunter, says a source. He’ll have the offseason to forget about a recent 10-game losing streak, the Suns’ longest since a franchise-worst 13-game skid in 1996-97.
[Also: Byron Scott is out as coach of the Cavaliers]
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
(24-58, previous ranking: 28th): The Cavs fired coach Byron Scott after a 64-166 record in three seasons in the post-James era. Despite a long list of injuries and a decent roster at best, Scott was expected to be a miracle worker.
29. Charlotte Bobcats
(21-61, previous ranking: 30th): Michael Jordan’s team tripled its win total with 21. Charlotte has a high lottery pick and possibly up to $21 million to spend in free agency if they amnesty Tyrus Thomas. But will anyone play here?
30. Orlando Magic
(20-62, previous ranking: 29th): In its first season without Dwight Howard, Orlando posted a league-worst record and will be in the draft lottery for the first time in seven years. The Magic, however, do have lots of young talent and draft picks.
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