Posted: Wednesday April 19, 2006 12:20PM; Updated: Wednesday April 19, 2006 1:38PM
9. RILEY'S RETURN
Pat Riley surprised few in returning to coach, but can he surprise the NBA and guide Miami to the Eastern Conference crown?
One of last summer's hottest rumors came to fruition in December when Heat coach Stan Van Gundy abruptly resigned for "family reasons" and president Pat Riley took his place. Riley had stoked speculation he might return to the sidelines with comments he had made after Miami's disappointing loss to the Pistons in Game 7 of the '05 Eastern Conference finals. With the Heat off to an 11-10 start, Van Gundy apparently decided to jump before being pushed. Riley wound up leading Miami to the No. 2 seed in the East. But can the Hall of Fame coach finish the job and guide the Heat to the Finals? Van Gundy surely will be watching.
8. IGGY'S DUNK
Who says the Dunk Contest isn't worth watching anymore? Sixers guard Andre Iguodala unveiled one of the best dunks in recent memory, catching an alley-oop toss from Allen Iverson behind the backboard and then floating up and under it on his way to the rim. The 6-8 Sixers star literally scraped his head on the bottom of the backboard before cramming the ball home. Incredibly, he still lost the contest to Knicks guard Nate Robinson, who had his own impressive dunk over Spud Webb in the preliminary round and then clinched it in the finals with a between-the-legs number that required 13 tries but nonetheless dazzled the crowd at Houston's Toyota Center.
7. CP3 AND OKC
Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets found a welcoming home in Oklahoma City and proceeded to become the NBA's feel-good story of the season. Led by rookie point guard Chris Paul, aka "CP3", the Hornets more than doubled their victory total from the season before (18-64) and stayed in the Western Conference playoff race until the end. Paul averaged 16 points, five rebounds and eight assists to wrap up the Rookie of the Year award early on. Meanwhile, OKC fans packed the Ford Center every night and turned it into a college-type atmosphere.
6. THAT'S (ALL) AMARE!
Having lost two starters and all-star forward Amaré Stoudemire to a knee injury before the season, the Suns were expected to struggle just to make the playoffs in 2005-06. But with reigning MVP Nash and a much-improved defense, Phoenix surprised the NBA by staying at the top of the Western standings much of the season. When Stoudemire returned to action with 20 points and nine rebounds in a promising debut against the Blazers on March 23, Suns fans had hopes of an NBA title. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. The 6-10 Stoudemire began suffering soreness in his knee and was forced to shut it down again after only three games.