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NBA regular season review: Bucks dominate, West obscurity, superstar trades

The 2022/23 NBA regular season is complete, with the Milwaukee Bucks winning the inaugural Maurice Podoloff trophy with a league-best 58-24 record.

The league’s awards revamp looks to reward teams for exceptional regular season performance, evident with the introduction of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy which goes to the team with the best regular-season record. 

While the Bucks won’t be too focused on that as they prepare for the playoffs, it serves as a mark of dominance displayed during the 2022/23 campaign.

Not only was Milwaukee statistically the best NBA team this regular season, but they did it in an Eastern Conference that was far superior to the West - one of the many storylines worth reflecting on ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

Dominant year for Eastern Conference

This was a record-breaking season for teams in the East. Having won 236 games against their Western Conference counterparts, this is their best-performing season since 1999.

That could be seen in the overall standings, where three sides in the East finished with better records than teams in the West. That trio are three of the four favorites for the championship, with the Bucks and Boston Celtics the frontrunners.

The Bucks, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers all finished within four games of each other this term and each have an MVP-caliber star, which should make for some great matchups later in the playoffs.

While there’s certainly talent at the top of the East, the tide could be turning. February’s trade deadline saw some star departures from the East to the West.

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Mixed returns for superstar trades

This has certainly been a year of superstar trades, with four high-profile players making big moves. Both the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets decided to cash in on their biggest assets, with mixed results for the buyers.

The summer saw the Minnesota Timberwolves splash out on Jazz center Rudy Gobert. On top of offering four players, the Timberwolves parted with five first-round picks – including Walker Kessler from the 2022 draft.

It’s fair to say that move didn’t pan out. Not only did the Timberwolves fail to improve, Gobert was sent home in disgrace after trying to punch a teammate on the sideline in their final regular season game. He’s been suspended for their crunch Play-In game, a disaster for a team trying to establish themselves as perennial playoff participants. 

However, Donovan Mitchell’s switch from Utah to the Cleveland Cavaliers did pan out. The Cavs finished fourth after landing the guard, returning to the Playoffs for the first time since LeBron James departed.

February brought another duo’s departure, as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving left the Nets for the Western Conference. KD’s arrival at the Phoenix Suns has been blighted by injury, but he’s made them favorites to win the conference.

Things didn’t go quite as well for Kyrie, with the Dallas Mavericks failing to make the postseason. Their disappointing 11th-place finish has been unfairly pinned on the guard, as he excelled in Dallas. 

The Mavs traded away one of their few effective defenders to land another high-scoring guard, while coach Jason Kidd’s odd line-ups carry more blame than Irving. Despite that, the move can’t be seen as a success with Kyrie able to walk away in free agency this summer.

Sacramento beams into playoffs

While Kyrie and the Mavs lost out in the west’s playoff chase, that fight was undoubtedly the highlight of the campaign. The Sacramento Kings set the tone there, making a storming start to claim a shock third-placed finish.

The Kings hadn’t made the postseason since 2006 and they looked locked in a perpetual rebuild. However, this breakout year for the Kings ended that Playoff drought in style.

The Kings were the feel-good story of the year. From finally getting the Domantas Sabonis trade right, to the great displays of rookie Keegan Murray, everything fell right for the Kings. 

They even gave the league one of its best gimmicks, thanks to their huge purple beam on top of the arena which was lit after each of their 48 victories.

The Kings’ stunning season heaped pressure onto more established franchises. It’s pitted the LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns against each other in the first round, while the Kings have home advantage in their series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

With the LA Lakers, Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans each pushed into the Play-In, there’s plenty more early west drama to come before the last team standing meets an eastern heavyweight in June’s NBA Finals. 

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