by Franklin Oliver
If you missed last week, hop on board...
Chicago and Miami
Miami must be convinced that every team in the League fancies the Heat as a rival. Repeat NBA titles and three straight Eastern Conference championships develops that kind of profile. While you will be hard pressed to find members of the Heat acknowledging anyone as a legitimate rival, Chicago comes very close.
Tension from this rivalry has many sources: the Bulls ending Miami’s astonishing win streak last year; the Bulls use of the ‘Jordan Rules’ on LeBron James; the Bulls’ absurd penny pinching contrasted with Miami’s apparently endless supply of low salaried veteran additions; Miami winning two 5 game playoff series with these core groups intact; Derrick Rose interrupting James’ MVP streak in an already embarrassing vote; even Chicago’s failure to land LeBron James, Chris Bosh or South Sider Dwyane Wade during their last free agency period.
The Heat are still the kings of the NBA mountain and the Bulls believe they are destined to replace them there. By force if necessary.
Chicago and Indiana
Even before the Bulls gave the Pacers their first loss of the season, this was shaping up to be one of the best rivalries in the League. These teams have both failed to defeat Miami in fiercely competitive playoff series. Both squads fancy themselves the Heat’s top challenger and heir apparent. Indiana and Chicago are also convinced that they have the best team defense and rising star in basketball. The problem is that there can be only one!
Part of the scarcity problem these teams experience means that they need to prove something with every meeting. Each game between the two plays out like a grudge match. The preseason game between the two last month was more physical than some regular season matchups will be. Add in the geographic proximity and disdain between the fan bases and Pacers/Bulls has one of the fullest rivalry profiles in sports right now.
Brooklyn and Miami
The last of the Eastern Conference rivalries I’ll consider is the only one that’s largely driven by personal animosity. It’s simple, really. Brooklyn’s leaders are the former Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. Those guys were at the top of the mountain before the Heat replaced Boston’s Big Three with a newer, flashier, more successful version.
While it’s clear that the South Beach version is not enamored with the older trio, most of the animosity here rests with the old lions. They hate Miami. That hate reached absurd proportions last year when Ray Allen refused to stay with Boston (after their attempted to trade him blew up in Danny Ainge’s face) and the returning Celtics publicly snubbed him. It hasn’t dissipated at all. This is the kind of animosity rarely seen in contemporary sports. It’s strong enough to automatically put the Heat and Nets on this list.
LA Clippers and Memphis
This may be my favorite current rivalry because it’s focused on the court. And, how…
Each of the last two years, the Grizzlies and Clippers fought an intense, highly competitive first round playoff series. The teams have split the series and won fans across the country. Unlike some of the other rivalries here that feature teams who have attempted to model themselves after each other, the Clippers and Grizzlies have substantially different team personalities and rosters. Los Angeles’ primary attributes are a high octane offense, great shooters, the most athletic post combination in the league, a legendary point guard who seems ordained to be a Hall of Famer and a championship winning coach
Memphis has an exceptional defense, hilariously bad 3 point shooting, highly skilled but deeply unathletic 4 and 5, a point guard whose father is a legend and a coach in his first year as the head man. It’s these contrasts that have made the matchups so intriguing to watch.
Just this week, tensions might have mounted between the teams as Memphis’ defensive ace Tony Allen kicked Chris Paul in the head while attempting to defend Paul and another player simultaneously. But Allen and Paul respect each other so much that Paul immediately recognized the accidental nature of the incident. Would all rivalries live on such an elevated plane!
LA Clippers and LA Lakers
This is a weird rivalry because it’s so metaphysical. The idea of a rivalry is much greater than the actuality of that rivalry. The national media and the Clippers themselves seem desperate to make the Hallway Rivalry a big deal. The most recent furor has come from Doc Rivers’ attempt to create a distinctive Clipper home court advantage by covering up the Lakers’ championship banners.
A perfect example of how clearly the ‘little brother’ the Clippers are comes from Jalen Rose’s newest NBA feature. Another is the one sidedness of the rivalry. Last year was the first time the Clippers ever won the season series. Ever. So maybe this one is on the way to being one of the top 5 rivalries in the league.
Feuds to Keep an Eye on:
Brooklyn-New York: Big city. Big names. Big hype.
Atlanta-Milwaukee: Wacky offseason intrigues will make this a confusing rivalry at the bottom of the East playoff race.
Miami-Oklahoma City: 5 of the top 25 basketball players in the world. Only one crown to be worn.