Here we are on the eve of the NBA Playoffs after what's been a wild regular season.
So wild, in fact, that I felt compelled to put together a list of the 10 most shocking happenings over the last 82 games. This is my personal perspective, given everything I thought I knew before tip off of the first game of the 2015-16 season.
Of course there are plenty of honorable mentions to be, well, mentioned, like Kristaps Porzingis being as spectacular as he's been (though one colleague of mine predicted this all along) and Drake not performing at halftime of the All-Star Game in his own city.
But anyway, let's get on with it before we have playoff games to watch.
10. Luke Walton - The Warriors assistant coach got thrust into the head job when Steve Kerr suffered debilitating headaches after back surgery. That Kerr would miss more than half of the season was surprising enough, but that a 36-year-old assistant would lead Golden State to a record 24-0 start was the real shocker.
9. Chicago Bulls - In the preseason, the Bulls were widely predicted to win around 50 games. Pro Basketball Talk's power rankings had them at No. 9, while FiveThirtyEight.com projected them to win 48 games and gave them an 88% chance of making the playoffs. None of that happened. Chicago is outside the playoffs looking in with a 42-40 record. That's made more surprising by the fact that Derrick Rose played 66 games, the most since his MVP 2010-11 season.
8. Isaiah Thomas - Five of seven Sports Illustrated NBA experts predicted Thomas to win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award. Instead, the 5-foot-9 point guard grabbed the starting job in his first full year in Boston AND made his first career All-Star appearance. His per game numbers rose from 16.4 points and 4.2 assists to 22.2 points and 6.2 assists year-over-year.
7. Washington Wizards - At the end of the 2015 playoffs, many around Washington felt the Wizards could have made the Eastern Conference Finals if John Wall had been healthy. Wizards Insider J. Michael predicted the team would finish third in the East and potentially contend for the conference title at the beginning of this season. Those expectations were in line with other NBA experts, but never came to fruition as injuries, a new system and poor defense torpedoed the Wizards' playoff hopes. Read a full breakdown of what went wrong here.
6. Blake Griffin's broken hand - On the list of unlikely injuries, Griffin breaking his hand by punching Clippers staffer Matias Testi has to be the most absurd. And embarrassing. And shameful. But definitely surprising. Heck, if Testi had seen it coming, I doubt he would've gone out with Griffin that night in the first place.
5. Kevin McHale's firing - The Rockets fired Kevin McHale just 11 games into the season in one of the earliest surprises of the year. Although Houston stumbled to a 4-7 record out of the gate, McHale had coached a virtually identical squad to the Western Conference Finals the season before. What makes his dismissal more shocking was that it came in the first year of the three-year, $12 million extension he'd inked months before. Charles Barkley called McHale's firing "a disgrace and a travesty." The Rockets haven't fared much better without McHale, limping to a 41-41 record and squeaking past the Jazz into the playoffs.
4. Portland Trail Blazers - LeMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez all left Portland in the summer of 2015. With Damian Lillard as the team's only remaining starter, the Trail Blazers were basically left for dead. Pro Basketball Talk's preseason projections ranked post-exodus Rip City at No. 29 out of 30 teams, with only the tank-job 76ers considered worse. Fast forward 82 games and Portland is sitting pretty as the five seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Attribute some of that success to the visionary play of Lillard, who richly deserved to be an All-Star, but also give a lot of credit to C.J. McCollum, who went from a backup to a 21 points per night scoring maniac. He's a favorite to win Most Improved Player -- he'd deserve it.
3. Stephen Curry - It would be unfair to say that the reigning MVP has taken his game to the next level. That would imply that his ascension has followed a rung-by-rung, linear climb. The Curry of 2015-16 is something altogether unfamiliar and apart from anything the NBA has ever seen. He's the overwhelming favorite to win a second consecutive MVP award while also getting deserved consideration for Most Improved. His 402 3-pointers this season broke his own record, set last year, by more than 100. Curry is less an NBA player than an NBA phenomenon, and no list of surprises would be complete without the man to whom realistic expectations no longer apply.
2. David Blatt's firing - The Cavaliers cited a "lack of fit with our personnel and our vision" as justification for firing head coach David Blatt. Never mind that Cleveland had been to the Finals the previous season and owned the Eastern Conference's best record at the time he was dismissed. Imagine: One day you're anticipating coaching the East All Stars; the next you're packing up your office. Life comes at you fast (and wearing a No. 23 jersey).
1. 73-9 - The 1995-96 Bulls record was never supposed to be broken. 72-10 should have been protected by the punishing duration of the NBA season. And by the fact that there has never been another player like Michael Jordan. If by some miracle another team were to challenge that best-all-time benchmark, certainly it couldn't happen in the same conference as a 67-win Spurs team. Especially not if the challenger had to beat San Antonio twice in the span of four games to close out the season. Never, never. Not in a million years. Bulls in four.