THROWBACK: The last time LeBron James missed the Playoffs
Adrian Dy on Mar 18, 2019 12:15 PM
INDIANAPOLIS - FEBRUARY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during the game against the Indiana Pacers on February 25, 2005 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers won 106 - 82. (Photo by John F. Grieshop/NBAE via Getty Images)
For more than a decade, NBA fans have gotten used to having LeBron James in the Playoffs. But while as of writing, the LA Lakers' postseason hopes are still mathematically alive, it's a near-certainty that James will get to have an early summer vacation this time around.
As of writing, the Lakers have a 31-39 record, after losing to the New York Knicks early today. That puts them at 11th in the West, a whopping 9.5 games back of the LA Clippers, who are currently #8. In-between the two sides? The 34-35 Sacramento Kings, and the 32-38 Minnesota Timberwolves.
Instead of further dwelling on the Lakers' misfortunes (or their chances at drafting Zion Williamson), let's jump into the time machine and head back to the 2004-05 season, to check out what the Association was like, the last time LeBron James failed to tow his team to the Playoffs.
LeBron James was a beast for the Cavaliers
Surprise! Even in his sophomore season, LeBron James was pretty damn good.
Playing a career regular-season high 3388 minutes over 80 games, James averaged 27.2 points on 47.2 percent shooting (35.1 percent on triples), with 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals.
James brought home several prizes that season, getting named to the All-NBA Second Team, and taking home a pair of Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards. He also was voted into the All-Star Game as an Eastern Conference starter for the very first time.
His Cavaliers team though...
The 2004-05 Cavaliers squad was not very impressive though, which explains why James played so much. Their big offseason moves were trading for Eric Snow and Drew Gooden (the latter a necessity, after Carlos Boozer bolted in free agency), and their major signing was either Robert "Tractor" Traylor or Lucious Harris, take your pick. During the trade deadline, their only move was dealing a first-round pick to the Boston Celtics for Jiri Welsch, who'd be moved the following offseason.
As a result, the team's rotation consisted of James, Jeff McInnis at the point, Gooden at power forward, Zydrunas Ilgauskas at center, and Ira Newble at shooting guard. Coming off the bench were Snow, Traylor, Harris, a rookie Anderson Varejao, and Sasha Pavlovic.
The Cavs front office also pulled the trigger on an in-season coaching change, firing Paul Silas in favor of Brendan Malone for the stretch run. But Malone went just 8-10, and Cleveland finished with a 42-40 record, good for fourth in the Central Division, ninth in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers were edged by the then-New Jersey Nets
Interestingly enough, the Cavaliers had a chance to make the Playoffs on the very last day of the regular season.
Contesting the eighth seed in the East were the New Jersey Nets, with both teams playing separate games on April 20, 2005. The Cavs took care of business, beating the Toronto Raptors 104-95, but so did the Nets, who came out triumphant versus the Boston Celtics, 102-93. With the Nets owning the tiebreaker, they were the ones who advanced.
This of course was the Nets team that made the in-season move to pair Jason Kidd with Vince Carter. It was a transaction that went splendidly, as New Jersey won 10 of their last 12 games to make it to the Playoffs. There unfortunately, they were swept by the Miami Heat's one-two punch of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade.
This was the first season of the 7 Seconds Or Less Phoenix Suns
You could make the argument that the offensive revolution in the NBA began this season, when the Phoenix Suns tapped Mike D'Antoni to be their head coach and signed Steve Nash as a free agent.
The pairing was immensely successful and fun to watch too. In their first run together, Phoenix had an NBA-best 62-20 record and got to the Conference Finals (where they were waylaid by the veteran San Antonio Spurs). Nash was named MVP, D'Antoni was Coach of the Year, and Bryan Colangelo, Executive of the Year.
The Kobe-Shaq breakup
This was also the season the LA Lakers dissolved the highly-successful, but extremely volatile combo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Miami Heat gleefully pounced on the opportunity to land Shaq-Diesel, and sent the Lakers Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick. The transaction vaulted the Heat to first in the Eastern Conference at 59-23, while the Lakers missed the postseason with a 34-48 card.
Battle of the rookie bigs
During the 2004 NBA Draft, fans and analysts debated Emeka Okafor versus Dwight Howard.
Okafor was perceived as the more polished player, having led the UConn Huskies to an NCAA title in his last collegiate season. Howard on the other hand seemed to have the higher upside, but was a bigger gamble as a straight-out-of-high-school prospect.
Howard wound up going first overall to the Orlando Magic, while expansion club Charlotte Bobcats picked Okafor at number two. Okafor won the Rookie of the Year prize, but injuries later diminished his productivity. It's safe to say that Howard would wind up having a better career.
Other notable names in the 2004 draft include Ben Gordon, Shaun Livingston, Devin Harris, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith, JR Smith, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen, Kevin Martin, and in the second round, current Alab import PJ Ramos. Also picked in the round two were Trevor Ariza and naturalized Pinoy Marcus Douthit.
Luke Walton was also playing his second NBA season
Funnily enough, LeBron's current head coach, Luke Walton, had also wrapped up his second season in the NBA - as a player - with the Lakers.
Averaging about 12.6 minutes, Walton normed 3.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists for the rebuilding LA club.
The NBA Finals saw the Spurs and Pistons battle in a defense-first slugfest
The Heat and the Suns topped their respective conference and made it all the way to the Conference Finals, but there, they were dethroned by the second seeds, the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs, respectively.
Both teams featured some star-studded lineups. The Spurs were bannered by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, with Robert Horry, Brent Barry, and Bruce Bowen contributing as well, while the Pistons had that famous first five of Rasheed and Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups.
While the series went a full seven games, it's pretty tough to watch in hindsight, especially if you're used to the current high-octane brand of NBA ball. The most points scored by a team in a game was 102, by the Pistons in game four, and the average output for either side was 85.79 markers (despite one game going to overtime!), an amount most teams usually hit in the third quarter now.
In any case, the Spurs took Game 7, 81-74, with Duncan winning his third Finals MVP Award.
It was the last time the Seattle Supersonics made it to the Playoffs
They'd stick around until the end of the 2007-08 season, before becoming the OKC Thunder (or as Bill Simmons puts it, the Zombie Sonics), but this was the last time the Sonics qualified for the postseason, posting a 52-30 record, which was good for third in the West.
The Sonics, powered by Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, made it to the West semis, before falling in six games to the eventual champion Spurs.
The Malice at the Palace happened
Just imagine if Twitter was around when the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers went at it! This happened two years before that familiar blue bird came around though, and #NBATwitter just wasn't a thing yet.
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