5 Phoenix Suns
The year before, the Suns had missed the playoffs for the first time since they acquired Steve Nash back in 2004. So in the offseason, they parted ways with Shaq, and got back to Phoenix Suns basketball. In 2009-10, they led the league in three-point shooting and total scoring, Steve Nash led the league in assists per game and Canadian-ness, and Phoenix finished with the league’s 5th best record. In fact, the surprising Suns made it all the way back to the Western Conference finals, where they fell to the eventual champion L.A. Lakers.
4 Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James was a monster. The league’s most dominant young player won his second straight MVP and looked simply unstoppable. He was buffered by a Shirley Temple-looking rebound machine, a Lurch-like but consistent center named Zydrunas and some kid named Boobie who was draining threes. Wait, there was some other guy too… oh yeah, Shaquille O’Neal. The Diesel may not have been what he was once was, but when you give him to a team that already has LeBron what you get is a league best .744 win percentage. What you don’t get, though, is past the second round of the playoffs. The Cavs were up 2-1 on the Celtics before being blown out of three straight games and sent home – a trip that would prove to be King James’ last as a Cavalier.
3 Orlando Magic
Coming off their first trip to the finals since the days of and Shaq and Penny, the Orlando Magic had all the pieces in place. That is, before they let Hedo Turkoglu run off to the basketball Mecca of Toronto, and traded away the promising young Courtney Lee in exchange for the rotting corpse of Vince Carter. Basically, solid decisions were made all-around. While Orlando put together a great regular season, finishing with the second-best record in the league, they lacked the chemistry of the previous year’s squad and wound up being completely overmatched by Boston in the Eastern semis. And we all know how things have gone for Orlando since then, so let’s just leave this one alone.
2 Boston Celtics
The Celtics seemed to have gotten old fast, but they were determined in 2009-10 to prove that their run had not yet turned into a labored walk. While they only won 50 games in the regular season, they coasted to an Atlantic Division – which back then was known affectionately as “Boston and the Embarrassments” – title and stored up their energy for a deep playoff run. After dispatching LeBron and the Cavs, then making quick work of defending Eastern champs Orlando, the C’s earned their second trip to the finals in three years and once again faced off with the rival Lakers. They fell just short of a championship though, and it’s pretty safe to assume it was karma for Paul Pierce pulling the old phony Willis Reed back in ’08.
1 Los Angeles Lakers
What do you do to improve if you just won a championship? Well, if you’re the Lakers, you add a little dash of crazy called Ron Artest to an already stellar roster. The defending champs didn’t disappoint in 2009-10, winning the Pacific for the third straight year and earning a third straight trip the finals. And despite a poor shooting performance by Kobe in game 7, the Lakers squeaked out a win over the Celtics, thanks in large part to 20 points from Mr. Artest. Afterward, we were all given the gift of a post-game Ron-Ron interview, wherein he ignores all questions and proceeds to thank his psychiatrist along with everyone from his hood, and announces the upcoming release of his rap single. Priceless.
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