The NBA regular season is unlike any other with thrillers, blowouts and shifting standings.

CLEVELAND — It took 82 games and five overtime minutes to decide the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and a playoff team that was lying all Sunday without a win could become the first-place team in the West.

On the unprecedented final day of the regular season for the NBA, game no. The New York Knicks defeated the Chicago Bulls by 120 in overtime, with the most wins in both conferences at 82. 119 tied for second in the East.

Also in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated a completely depleted Dallas Mavericks 135-86, and the Thunder moved out of a three-way tie with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 1 spot. With an average age just under 24 years old, OKC is the youngest team in league history to be ranked No. 1.

The Nuggets, the 2023 NBA champions, also won Sunday to beat No. Finished ranked 2; The Timberwolves lost to the Phoenix Suns and fell to third place. The Suns, with their win and the New Orleans Pelicans' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, moved into sixth place in the West.

While the Thunder (the league's second-youngest team, five years removed from rebuilding the franchise) and the Nuggets await first-round opponents in the play-in round, the No. 3 Minnesota next weekend at No. 6 Phoenix and no. 4 LA. Clippers hosts no. 5 Dallas.

Both the Pelicans and Suns entered Sunday ranked sixth, just one game behind the No. 8 (Lakers) I no. Separated from 10 (Golden State Warriors).
The West play-in will feature a rematch of Sunday's Pelicans-Lakers game at 7-8, with the winner advancing to play the Nuggets. The Sacramento Kings will host the Warriors in a 9-10 play-in.

In the East, the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers also won on Sunday, while the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks lost in embarrassing fashion.

As a result, certain East first-round matchups: No. 4 Cleveland at No. 5 Orlando and no. 3 Milwaukee at No. 6 Indiana.

In a play-in tournament game no. 7 The Sixers will host No. 8 Miami, with the winner advancing to play No. 2 New York in the first-round series. With a 14-game lead over the second-place team in the East since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, the Boston Celtics await the winner of the play-in final (lost against Miami-Philly. Winner of No. 10 Atlanta-No. 9 Chicago.

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Lakers-Pelicans and Kings-Warriors matchups set for Tuesday; The 76ers-Heat and Bulls-Hawks games are on Wednesday.

If The Masters is a tournament unlike any other, the same can be said for this particular season-ending day in the NBA.

Through 81 games in league history, it's the first time three teams with a chance for first place in the conference have shared the same record. On that side of the bracket, only the Clippers (No. 4) and Mavericks (No. 5) are guaranteed to stay where they've been through 81 games — which is why Dallas lost Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Maxi Kleber, Derek Lively II and more to the Thunder.

All 30 teams played on Sunday. At the end of the day, there were 18 teams with at least a .500 mark — another league record.

The Bucks, Knicks and Cavs all started Sunday with a shot at the No. 2 seed. Milwaukee faded down the stretch (14-12 since the All-Star break) and struggled under new coach Doc Rivers, eventually pulling its starters in the fourth quarter of a 113-88 beatdown at the hands of the Magic — who fell with a play-in loss. A win and the Bucks would have captured second. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed last week with a calf injury.

“Indiana has had our numbers all year,” Bucs coach Doc Rivers said. “Look, we've got to play somebody, and they're tough. They played well against us. They may have too much faith in us. We'll pay more attention, because we'll have to.

In Cleveland, the Cavs were in second place in the East at the All-Star break and then went 12-17, holding Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert and Darius Garland against the Charlotte Hornets, who wore just nine players. A spinner. But early in the first quarter, the Cavs' lone ballplayer in uniform, Craig Porter Jr., sprained his ankle and couldn't return. The Cavs led by 13 early in the fourth and coach J.P. While Bickerstaff pulled most of his remaining rotation players, Cleveland was shut down with a lineup whose only offense was trying to put Tristan Thompson — yes, Tristan Thompson — on the ball. Floor for something to happen.

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Even against an array of end-of-benchers and G Leaguers like the Hornets last had on the floor, such a silly idea wouldn't work. The Cavs lost 120-110 in Hornets coach Steve Clifford's last game and were cheered by home fans in the closing moments.

“It was tough (to watch), but our plan was what we were going to do with our guys,” Bickerstaff said afterward. “(Our starters) were going to play those three quarters, and then with Craig not being out, it was a little tough to organize and score in the fourth quarter, but we wanted to stick to our plan, no matter what. We're going to give our guys a chance to play.”

With a win, the Cavs would have leapfrogged the Bucks for third place and avoided the Celtics for a possible conference finals berth. The Knicks, meanwhile, got 40 points from All-Star Jalen Brunson and 25 points from Donte DiVincenzo, who played 53 minutes. Clearly, second place means more to some teams than others.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried to make this regular season more meaningful and say what you will about each specific method he chose, but he got the final result he wanted. Silver created a new tournament, requiring players to sit out fewer games, and changed the rules to encourage greater participation, along with player approval. He also asked the players to try harder during the All-Star Game.

“I don't know if it's because of all the offseason changes or whatever it is, or because I think the league is in a really good place in terms of talent depth,” Bickerstaff said. “The level of competition from top to bottom through the league is very good right now and I think the games are very impressively balanced.”

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The in-season tournament was a success by any measure. The championship featured LeBron James and the Lakers, and with Los Angeles' proximity to Las Vegas, where the tournament's semifinals and finals were held, attendance was high. LA's title game win over the Pacers was the most-watched non-Christmas NBA regular season game since 2018.

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New league rules to limit load management and increase the number of stars playing in nationally televised games sparked controversy because one rule tied honors such as MVP to the number of games played, but overall, there were many of the NBA's best players. Often court.

For example, of all the league's perennial MVP candidates, only the reigning MVP, Embiid, failed to reach the minimum 65 games to qualify, while the rest finished by a comfortable margin. The league's top 50 goalscorers have played at least 80 percent of the games this season compared to last season. Also, among the top 10 vote getters for MVP last season, only two players appeared in more than 70 games.

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The All-Star Game saw the All-Star record for total points in a game shattered as both teams paid so little attention.

But Silver's other two initiatives worked, and here he is in charge at the end of his 10th season, presiding over the final day of a regular season that featured more wins than any previous final day in league history.

(Top photo by Donte DiVincenzo: Elsa/Getty Images)

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