First, Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy seized control of the playoffs when he claimed an official told him the referees were targeting center Yao Ming. The NBA levied a $100,000 fine -- the most for a coach in league history -- and threatened further punishment, but Van Gundy later clarified his remarks and recouped the money and then some by landing a one-year contract extension less than two weeks after his team lost a first-round Game 7 to the Dallas Mavericks by 40 points.
Then labor strife hijacked the playoffs when collective-bargaining talks between the league and players' association stalled, increasing the likelihood of the NBA's second lockout in seven years.
Not to be outdone, peripatetic Pistons coach Larry Brown proceeded to capture the playoffs when reports circulated he was set to leave Detroit after the season to become the Cleveland Cavaliers' president of basketball operations. And you thought star players got away with a lot of traveling.
Elsewhere, the Memphis Grizzlies banished swingman Bonzi Wells; the Grizzlies' Jason Williams was fined after grabbing the pen out of a newspaper columnist's hand, possibly the offensive-minded point guard's first defensive stand of the season; the Washington Wizards suspended former No. 1-pick Kwame Brown; and the Philadelphia 76ers fired coach Jim O'Brien after one season.
So have any games been played since the regular season ended about seven weeks ago?
Seventy-seven, actually, leading to an NBA Finals with the two preseason favorites, the defending-champion Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs. And that quantity produced just enough quality -- a trio of breakout stars, a popular point guard haunting his old team, some early Tracy McGrady magic and an emotional goodbye for an all-time great -- to shift some of the focus back on the court.
Wade through several blah series (not to mention the fits-and-starts schedule) and discover Wade -- Dwyane Wade, a second-year guard who nearly led the Miami Heat to their first Finals berth in the franchise's 17-year history.
Wade needed only 12 games to shatter Tim Hardaway's club record for points in a single postseason, achieved in 17 games in 1997. But in his 13th game of the playoffs, Wade sustained a rib injury that kept him out of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and blunted his impact in Game 7. Nevertheless, Wade served notice that he is poised for superstardom -- much like another youngster who backed up a strong regular season with a playoff tear.
That would be STAT -- Standing Tall And Talented, the nickname Phoenix Suns center Amare Stoudemire gave himself. Stoudemire, 22, was frighteningly dominant in the Western Conference finals, averaging 37 points on 55 percent shooting the league's stingiest team, San Antonio, and all-defensive team regular Tim Duncan. Bring more help defense, stat.
The third-year player, much maligned for his defensive shortcomings, also produced perhaps the signature play of the postseason, a spectacular block on Duncan at the rim in the waning seconds of Game 4 that helped the Suns avoid a Spurs sweep. San Antonio rebounded to win Game 5 and reach the Finals for the third time since 1999, this latest run sparked by the postseason's third emerging force, Manu Ginobili, a dynamic third-year guard who seems to embrace playoff pressure.
Give Steve Nash an assist or seven for Stoudemire's prolific output. The regular-season MVP was front and center during the most entertaining matchup of the playoffs, a six-game series with the Dallas Mavericks in which the teams combined to average 228.3 points, including a 130-126 overtime thriller in the Suns' clincher.
Nash drilled a late 3-pointer to force the extra period, part of a 39-point, 12-assist effort that left his series averages at 30.3 points (on 55 percent shooting) and 12 assists. All against the team that didn't re-sign him last offseason and instead spent big money on the mercurial Erick Dampier, the self-proclaimed second-best center in the league who had fewer than two field goals in four of 13 playoff games.
The Mavs, at least, had something to show for their playoff ride besides tread marks left by Nash and McGrady, who averaged 30.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists in the first round. In eliminating Houston in the most lopsided Game 7 in league history, Dallas became the third team to lose the first two games at home and rally to win a seven-game series.
Like the Mavs, the Indiana Pacers won a first-round Game 7 (against the Boston Celtics) before losing in six the following series (against the Pistons). The latter spelled not only the end of a suspension- and injury-laden season but also the departure of shooting guard Reggie Miller, who is retiring as the NBA's 12th-leading scorer and one of its most feared marksman. Credit the Pistons' Brown for calling a timeout after Game 6 had been decided so Miller could soak up the standing ovation at Conseco Fieldhouse -- an on-court moment worth relishing.