The NBA regular season ended at 9:38 p.m. Sunday when Vancouver and Sacramento played the final few seconds of overtime in the last bad-vs.-bad matchup to be seen for awhile.
The new season begins today, and fans won't have to put up with the laggards and underachievers like the Grizzlies and Kings who have stuck around for the past 5 1/2 months and 1,189 regular-season games.Now, only the best remain.
And the New Jersey Nets earned the right to be called one of them Sunday by qualifying for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference - and the right to play the defending champion Chicago Bulls - with a 114-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
"We'll be playing the best team in basketball, and the whole world - and everyone in the NBA - will be watching," All-Star center Jayson Williams said. "Now everybody can see what the New Jersey Nets have accomplished."
Most of the other games Sunday were meaningless, but there were a couple with playoff implications.
Charlotte defeated Orlando 89-76 to clinch homecourt advantage in its first-round series against Atlanta, Phoenix defeated Houston 123-93 to clinch the home court against San Antonio, and Seattle beat Portland 90-82 to win the Pacific Division.
It was the Nets' fourth chance of the week to clinch a postseason berth, and they finally did it on their last try with an inspired effort from their three healthy starters and two fill-ins.
Kendall Gill scored a season-high 27 points, including 14 in the decisive third quarter, rookie Keith Van Horn had 25 and Kerry Kittles added 22.
Chris Gatling, starting at center because of injuries to Williams, Rony Seikaly and Michael Cage, contributed 18 points and 10 assists, and Sherman Douglas, playing 47 of a possible 48 minutes with Sam Cassell ailing, had 18 points, 11 assists and five steals.
In all, the five starters accounted for 110 of New Jersey's 114 points.
"Getting there wasn't easy, but we're there," Cassell said. "We showed heart, and we showed we were determined and willing to do whatever it takes to win."
SUNS 123, ROCKETS 93: It was easy to tell who still had something to play for.
Cliff Robinson and Jason Kidd provided a 1-2 scoring punch as the energized Phoenix Suns clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and first-round homecourt advantage with a victory over the Houston Rockets in Clyde Drexler's final regular-season game.
"The homecourt can be overcome but at the same time you'd rather establish how you're going to play in the first two games at home and the last game can be important too," said Robinson, who scored 32 points.
The Suns finished the regular season 56-26 and will get the homecourt advantage against the San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs. The Suns won the season series with San Antonio 3-1.
"Now it's 0-0 and a new season," said Kidd, who scored 15 of his 27 points in the second half. "The three wins we had over them only helped us to win the homecourt."
The Suns didn't need their best to beat the Rockets, who played without injured starters Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.
HORNETS 89, MAGIC 76: At Charlotte, the Hornets won the homecourt edge, but they will be playing a Hawks team that swept them 4-0 in the season series.
"It's real important. We want to gain any edge that we possibly can," said Hornets coach Dave Cowens, whose team went 32-9 this season at the Charlotte Coliseum, the best home record in the franchise's 10-year history. "We'll try to undo what happened during the course of the season."
Reserve guard B.J. Armstrong powered the decisive run in the second quarter and Glen Rice scored 17 of his 26 points in the second half as the Hornets won for the fourth time in five games.
SONICS 90, TRAIL BLAZERS 82: At Portland, Gary Payton scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half, including a key three-point play with 59 seconds to play. The win gave Seattle its third consecutive division title and fourth in five years.
"I've won so many of them now that it doesn't make that much difference to me," Payton said. "I'm just happy for the young guys. Now they've got to understand that it's over with. We won it. Let's get ready to play basketball because all of that can go down the drain if we lose in the first round."
HAWKS 101, HEAT 89: At Atlanta, Steve Smith pushed his scoring average from 19.9 to 20.2 by shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 10-of-11 at the line for 30 points.
Miami closed the regular season with three straight meaningless losses.
SPURS 96, NUGGETS 82: At San Antonio, the Spurs set an NBA re-cord for the largest single season turnaround.
The Spurs, with 56 victories, had a 36-game improvement over last season. That surpassed the previous record of a 35-game swing by San Antonio during David Robinson's rookie year, 1989-90.
76ERS 107, RAPTORS 78: Allen Iverson scored 26 points to lead the visiting Sixers (31-51), who finished with nine more wins than last year but still not enough for the playoffs. Philadelphia has not been in the postseason since 1991.
GRIZZLIES 112, KINGS 108, OT: At Sacramento, Tony Massenburg had a career-high 34 points as Vancouver sent the Kings to their 19th loss in 20 games. Sacramento finished the season with 19 losses in its final 20 games and set an NBA record with its 15th consecutive losing season.