With the NBA releasing its schedule on Wednesday, one of the first things that people look for are the “Rivalry Games.” And that got me to wondering: Which teams, at present, have the biggest rivalries going?
Now, when it comes to historic rivalries, it’s easy. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are easily the biggest. But right now, it’s doubtful it would draw much national attention. The Lakers are a lottery team, and the Celtics would be if they weren’t in the East.
So, of teams who are going at it right now, who are the biggest rivalries?
I considered a few rivalries that didn’t quite make the grade.
James Dolan vs. the New York Knicks: Let’s face it; it can’t be a rivalry if it’s this one-sided.
Gar Pax vs. Tom Thibodeau: That one’s dead until Thibs gets a job.
Iman Shumpert vs. Hedge Clippers: Came very close here, but I think this might be more of a willing and loving relationship, and who am I to judge?
Kobe Bryant Fans vs. the Internet: If any of the presidential hopefuls were as organized as Kobe fans, they’d be the heavy favorites to win the White House. When Henry Abbott posted an article questioning the sainthood of Bryant, he felt their full wrath. Kobe fans have sting!
LeBron James vs. Headbands: Next on the list. His headbands are the cusp of just becoming knit caps.
4. Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks
You could almost throw up any two teams from Texas here, but after “Horse-Emoticongate,” I had to give the nod to the Rockets and the Mavericks.
After the Rockets beat the Mavericks, whoever managed the Twitter account thought it would be cute to tweet this:
The win had to be especially sweet for the Rockets after the Mavericks swept Chandler Parsons away from them while they were vying to create their own version of a superteam by stealing Chris Bosh away from the Miami Heat.
But Houston replaced Parsons with Trevor Ariza, made some brilliant midseason moves to get Corey Brewer and Josh Smith in the lineup, and rode a near-MVP season by James Harden all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
It was the first postseason matchup between the clubs in a decade, but between the emoticon thing, Parsons and the battle to not be the worst team in Texas, this is a legit rivalry.
And oh yeah, their fans despise each other
3. Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
This isn’t as widely viewed as some of the others, but these two teams definitely count one another as their top rival. And they have a little history, too.
They’ve played thrice in the playoffs in that span. The 19 games is the most between any two teams in the NBA in the last five years.
The first time was in 2012. After the No. 8-seeded Memphis shocked the top-ranked San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the quick-rising Thunder were the heavy favorites. The Grizzlies didn’t go down easy but went the full seven games.
In 2013, the Grizzlies won, but you’ll nary find a Thunder fan who won’t give the full credit for that to Houston Rockets point guard, Patrick Beverley. In the previous series, Beverley fouled Russell Westbrook out of bounds, taking out Westbrook’s meniscus and him out of the season in the process:
Without Westbrook, Durant did what he could, but with Tony Allen doing a sensational job of guarding him, it just wasn’t enough, and the Grizzles took OKC down in five.
Oklahoma City won the most recent series in seven games in 2014. This time with the Grizzlies holding the No. 7 seed and the Thunder playing all three of their stars, the series went the distance again.
It featured this epic game:
In fact, the Grizzlies were up 3-2 in this one before the Thunder won the last two games by a combined 31 points. In those two contests, Durant and Westbrook scored a whopping combined 121 points.
This rivalry is more respectful than nasty, but these two teams get up to play each other.
2. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors
The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have a legitimate heated rivalry going. Before their final game of last season, Draymond Green said to CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole, “It’s no secret: They don’t like us. We don’t like them. And that’s not going to change.”
The two teams only met once in the playoffs. The first-round series went the full seven games and was tied in the fourth quarter with 2:20 remaining. The Clippers won that one, but got knocked out of the second round.
But what there is between these two teams is beyond what happens in the playoffs. For years, they were both doormats of the league and now are elite.
They’re in the same conference. They both play uptempo ball. They have arguably the two best point guards in the NBA (sorry Russ).
The Clippers reside in SoCal and the Warriors in NorCal (but don’t tell Sacramento that), so there’s an internal geographical rivalry already between the fans.
There’s a choppiness to this rivalry that’s unquestionable. Things like this are no accident:
Which is why Green responded with this low-key barrage of swipes and snipes:
1. Chicago Bulls vs. LeBron James
There probably isn’t much more dislike than what exists between the Chicago Bulls and LeBron James. It probably goes back to this:
And it was the Bulls who ended the Miami Heat’s historic winning streak:
But the King has always had the last laugh.
The Bulls have lost to James in the playoffs not one, not two, not three but four times in the playoffs. Probably none of those as painful as the last. After Derrick Rose drained a game-winner in Game 3, Chicago went up 2-1 in these past playoffs.
Then, the Bulls rallied back to tie Game 4, but then everything the fates could bestow on LeBron, they did again. Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt called an illegal timeout and got away with it. Seconds later, when the ball was tipped out of bounds, he effectively got one anyway. And then he used that opportunity to draw up let LeBron draw up a play that would win the game.
That seemed to take all of the fight out of the Bulls as the Cavaliers cruised to the last two wins en route to a trip to the Finals.
The Bulls have had their moments, but James has clearly owned this rivalry.