National Basketball Association rivalries

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Throughout nearly 60 seasons, the National Basketball Association has had many intense rivalries. This article summarizes some of the famous rivalries in the NBA. Rivalries are classified into three primary groups; intradivisional, interdivisional, and interconference.

Interconference rivalries comprise games between opponents in different conferences. A team plays each opponent from the other conference in one home game and one away game.

Intradivisional rivalries comprise games between opponents in the same division. Since the 2004–05 NBA season, there are 30 teams in six divisions of 5 teams each. Each team plays each division opponent 4 times during the regular season (twice at home, twice away) for a total of 16 games out of 82 total regular season games.

Interdivisional rivalries comprise games between opponents in different divisions but within the same conference. A team plays against each team from the other two divisions in its conference either three or four times. The total interdivisional games an NBA team plays is 36. Conference games are often important, as a team's record in common games, as well as its overall record against its conference, are sometimes used as tiebreakers for playoff seeding at the end of the regular season. Also, many regular season opponents have met again in the playoffs, and the result of a regular season game can affect where the playoff game will be played.


Interconference rivalries

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

This rivalry involves the two most storied franchises in NBA history. It has been called the greatest rivalry in NBA history.[1] The two have met a record twelve times in the NBA Finals, starting with their first Finals meeting in 1959. They would go on to dominate the league in the 1960s and 1980s, facing each other six times in the 1960s, three times in the 1980s and two times in the 2000s.

The rivalry had been less intense since the retirements of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the early 1990s, but in 2008 it was renewed, as the two teams met in the Finals for the first time since 1987, with the Celtics winning the series 4-2. They faced off again in the 2010 NBA Finals, which the Lakers won in 7 games. The two teams have won the two highest numbers of championships, the Celtics 17, the Lakers 16; together, the 33 championships account for almost half of the 68 championships in NBA history.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons

This rivalry is between the Lakers and Pistons.[2] This rivalry, which was showcased 3 times in the NBA Finals (1988, 1989, 2004), pitted the high-flying, All-Star filled Lakers against the blue collar, team-first oriented Pistons. Detroit, despite being the underdog in all 3 of their Finals between Los Angeles, enjoyed success, and claimed the NBA title twice.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The two teams have the most meetings in the NBA Playoffs, playing each other in 19 series with the Celtics winning 12 of them.[3] The Sixers are considered to be the Celtics' second greatest rival to the Los Angeles Lakers.[4]

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks

Two of the only remaining teams from the original 1946 NBA (the other is the Golden State Warriors, who, while in Philadelphia, were rivals with both teams; both rivalries died once the Warriors moved west).[5]

This rivalry stems from the rivalry between New York City and Boston, as well as the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry in Major League Baseball. The fact that Boston and New York City are only 190 miles apart contributes to the rivalry, which is also seen in the Jets–Patriots rivalry in the National Football League (NFL).[5][6][7]

They met four times in five years in the early to mid-1950s, with the Knicks winning the first 3 series in 1951, 1952, and 1953. Boston beat the Knicks in the playoffs for the first time in 1955.

The next two playoff meetings took place in 1967 and 1969, with the Celtics winning both times.

They met in 1972, 1973, and 1974. Knicks won two out of the 3 series against the Celtics. They met again in the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Larry Bird and Bernard King led their teams in a hotly contested series that ended with a Boston win at home in Game 7 (the home team won every game) en route to the Celtics' 1984 title victory over the Lakers.

Their next meeting was in the 1988 Eastern Conference First Round, where the Knicks lost in 4.

The teams met again in 1990, again in the first round. The Celtics took a 2–0 series lead, but the Knicks came back and won the series in Game 5 in Boston Garden 121–114. They met once more in 2011, where Boston swept New York in the first round 4–0. The most recent meeting between the two teams was in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, with New York winning in six games.

Boston Celtics vs. Brooklyn Nets

The Boston Celtics were once rivals of the New Jersey Nets during the early 2000s due to their respective locations and their burgeoning stars. The Nets were led by Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, while the Celtics were experiencing newfound success behind Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. The rivalry began to heat up in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, which was preceded by trash talking from the Celtics[8] who claimed Martin was a "fake" tough guy. Things progressed as the series started, and on-court tensions seemed to spill into the stands. Celtic fans berated Kidd and his family with chants of "Wife Beater!"[9] in response to Kidd's 2001 domestic abuse charge. When asked about the fan barbs being traded, Kenyon Martin stated, "Our fans hate them, their fans hate us." Bill Walton said at the time that Nets-Celtics was the "beginning of the next great NBA rivalry" during the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002 with the Nets advancing to the NBA Finals, though New Jersey would go on to sweep Boston in the 2003 playoffs.

In 2012, the year the Nets returned to New York in the borough of Brooklyn, there were indications that the rivalry might be rekindled when an altercation occurred on the court on November 28, resulting in the ejection of Rajon Rondo, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries. Rondo was suspended for two games in the aftermath, while Wallace and Kevin Garnett were fined.[10] The story was revisited on December 25, when Wallace grabbed Garnett's shorts and the two had to be broken up by referees and players alike.

However, the rivalry between the Nets and the Celtics appeared significantly cooled off by the June 2013 blockbuster trade that dealt Celtics stars Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for Wallace, Humphries, and others. This move was billed as a merger of the two Atlantic Division teams.[11] Celtics announcer Sean Grande said "It's almost as if you found a great home for these guys. You couldn't have found a better place. These guys will be in the New York market, they'll be on a competitive team, they'll stay on national TV. It's funny, because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So with Celtics fans feeling the way they do about the Heat, feeling the way they do about the Knicks, the Nets are going to become almost the second [Boston] team now."[12]

Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors

The rivalry began when Vince Carter was involved in a trade between the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets.[13] However, the two teams would not meet in the playoffs until 2007, when the Nets defeated the Raptors in the First Round series 4–2 after a go-ahead shot by Richard Jefferson with 8 seconds left in Game 6 led to a 98–97 victory.[14] Seven years later, the two teams would meet once again in the First Round, where the series would end in Game 7, after a game-saving block by Paul Pierce, giving the Nets the 104–103 victory.[15] The series was also noted for controversy when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri yelled "Fuck Brooklyn" at a fan rally outside Maple Leaf Square before Game 1. Ujiri later apologized at halftime. Rapper Jay-Z, who is an avid supporter of the Nets, and rapper Drake, who is the "global ambassador" of the Raptors, also adds a celebrity aspect to this rivalry. [16]

New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets

In 1967 the Brooklyn Nets were a charter member of the American Basketball Association. The team played on Long Island from 1968–77 as the New York Nets. With the 1976 ABA–NBA merger the New York Knicks forced the Nets to pay $4.8 million for "invading" their territory, in addition to the $3 million they paid for moving into the NBA. These fees forced the Nets to renege on a promised raise to Julius Erving, and they were forced to trade him to the 76ers. As a result, the Nets went from defending ABA champions to an also-ran almost overnight.

The teams have met 3 times in the playoffs, the Knicks won in 1983 and 1994, and the Nets in 2004.

The Nets' move into New York City with the construction of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has reignited the rivalry.[17] With the Nets move to Brooklyn, the rivalry may become similar to Major League Baseball's Mets–Yankees rivalry and National Football League's Giants–Jets rivalry, due to both boroughs' proximity through the New York City Subway. Thus one of the nicknames given so far include the "Clash of the Boroughs". A more similar parallel would be the historical Dodgers–Giants rivalry, the two teams were known as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Like the Knicks and Nets, the Giants and Dodgers played in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and were fierce intra-division rivals. In the same vein, the National Hockey League's New York Islanders' move to the Barclays Center in 2015 will also intensify their rivalry with the New York Rangers even further.

New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The rivalry started due to the proximity of the cities, 2 hours by car, and rivalries between teams in different sports from the same cities: the Mets–Phillies rivalry in the Major League Baseball, Eagles–Giants rivalry in the National Football League, and Flyers–Rangers rivalry in the National Hockey League. The teams have met three times in the playoffs, with the 76ers winning twice.[18][19]

Central Division

Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

It started in the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round. Cleveland unexpectedly forced a Game 5 against Chicago with MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Michael Jordan. In the 1988-89 season, the Cavaliers attained the 2nd best record (57–25) in the East. They swept the season series against the Bulls 6–0.[20] The series went to a Game 5. With Chicago down 100-99, Jordan hit "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer to win the series.

In 1992, the second seeded Cleveland met the top seeded reigning champion Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls won the series 4–2, but not before Cav reserve Danny Ferry threw a seemingly unprovoked punch at Jordan. The Bulls went on to win a second straight NBA title.

They met again in the 1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals; the Cavaliers were swept by the Bulls on the way to their third NBA title.

After Jordan's unexpected retirement prior to the '94 season, the two met in the first round of the playoffs. Scottie Pippen led Chicago to a 3–0 sweep. Cleveland entered a rebuilding phase, while the Bulls won 3 more titles. They met in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The top seeded Cavaliers, with MVP LeBron James, met the 8th-seeded Bulls with their young star Derrick Rose. James led the Cavaliers over the Bulls for the first time in playoff history, 4-1.[21]

The teams met again in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the returning LeBron James with Kyrie Irving and fully recovered Derrick Rose. The Cavaliers, the second seed in the East, won that series over the Bulls, the third seed, 4-2. Games 3 and 4, both in Chicago, were decided by a jump shot at the buzzer, with Rose banking in a three-pointer to give the Bulls a 99-96 win and James answering with a corner jumper just inside the three-point line for the Cavaliers' 86-84 victory.

Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons

The rivalry originated in the late 1980s and was one of the most intense in NBA history for a couple of years, when Michael Jordan evolved into one of the league's best players and the Pistons became a major contender.

In the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the "Bad Boys", as the Pistons became known, were on the rise. Jordan, league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, was the ultimate challenge for Detroit's top-notch defense. Despite his individual talents, the Bulls lacked the talent and, physical and mental toughness to win; Detroit won in 5.

In 1989 the Pistons (63-19) posted the league's best record. The 6th-seeded Bulls (47–35) surprised many when they beat the Cavaliers 3–2 with "The Shot", and Knicks 4–2. The Bulls and Pistons met in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls took a 2–1 series lead before the Pistons employed the "Jordan Rules" (which solely targeted Jordan) which had worked the year before. The Pistons won the next 3 games and the series.

For the 1989–90 season under new coach Phil Jackson, the Bulls sought to subvert the "Jordan Rules" with the triangle offense. Jordan shared responsibility and led the 55-27 Bulls to the second best record in the East behind the defending champion Pistons (59–23). In an ECF rematch, the Bulls pushed the Pistons to Game 7, but the Pistons won at home 93–74. The Pistons went on to win their second consecutive NBA title.

With a greater concentration on teamwork, the Bulls posted the best record in the East (61–21), and Jordan regained the MVP award after years of being accused of being a selfish player. Meanwhile, the Pistons showed their age and suffered injuries. Some doubted the Bulls and thought the Pistons' psychological edge and bench strength would loom over the series. They swept the Pistons. Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre walked off the court with 7.9 seconds left in the game so as not to congratulate the Bulls. In the Finals the Bulls defeated the Lakers to capture their first NBA title.

In the 2006 offseason, Ben Wallace, the cornerstone of the Pistons' defense, stunned the league when the Bulls signed him. However, the Pistons defeated the Bulls 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The record between the two teams in playoff series stands at 4-2 in Detroit's favor.

Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers

The Bulls and the Indiana Pacers' rivalry begins with the two playing in the Central Division. This rivalry is best known from the match-ups in the 1990s in which Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller would go head-to-head. The Bulls and Pacers met in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago won the series in seven games. The rivalry was renewed when the two teams faced each other in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, with the Bulls winning the series in five games.

Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bulls and Bucks have a rivalry intensified by geographical proximity, given Chicago fans take a 2-hour drive up Interstate 94 to attend Bulls games in Milwaukee.[22] The teams have met in the playoffs four times, with the Bucks winning the first two - 1974, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and 1985, under Sidney Moncrief and taking down Michael Jordan in his playoff debut - and then the Bulls won in 1990, with the final game having so many fouls it is marked as a turning point towards increasing rules against hard fouls and aggressive play. In 2015, the teams had a rematch, won by the Bulls 4-2. So far, each team has beaten the other twice in playoff series.[23]

Detroit Pistons vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers have been rivals since the 2006 NBA Playoffs, featuring players such as LeBron James, Chauncey Billups, Larry Hughes, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince. These teams met in the NBA Playoffs three times in three seasons from 2005 to 2009, with the Pistons winning in 2006, and the Cavaliers coming out on top in 2007 and 2009.[24] In the 2016 Eastern Conference First Round, the Cavaliers swept the series over the Pistons.

Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers

The Pistons and Pacers met for the first time in the 1990 Playoffs, the Pistons swept the Pacers in three straight games on their way to their second straight NBA championship. But the rivalry truly began in the 2003-04 season. The Pacers finished with a league best 61 wins and were led by Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, and Reggie Miller, and coached by Rick Carlisle. Carlisle had been fired by Detroit at the end of the previous season. Detroit was led by Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, and Richard Hamilton, and coached by Larry Brown. Indiana won the first 3 matchups in the regular season, before being defeated by the Pistons in the final regular-season meeting at the Palace. That was also the first time the two met after Rasheed Wallace was traded to Detroit.

They met in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana narrowly won Game 1, thanks to some late heroics from Miller. Rasheed, unimpressed, stated "We will win Game 2" during an interview before the second game (locally known as the "Guaran-Sheed" victory).[25] Late in Game 2, Detroit held a two-point lead, Billups turned over the ball, and Miller appeared to have an uncontested lay-up that would have tied the game. However, before Miller could score, he was chased down by Prince, who leapt from behind and blocked the shot. Near the end of Game 6, when Detroit held a slight lead, Artest committed a flagrant foul on Hamilton, which nearly caused tempers to boil over. Detroit won the series 4-2, and went on to win the NBA title.

On November 19, 2004, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, what has become known as the Pacers–Pistons brawl took place. All involved were suspended for varying lengths. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season (73 games).

That year teams split the four regular season meetings. They met in the Eastern Conference semifinals and split the first two games. The Pacers, blew an 18-point lead, but still won Game 3 in Indianapolis. However, just as he did a year earlier, Rasheed promised a win in Game 4, saying, "When we return, we will be tied at 2." The Pistons won Games 4 and 5. The Pacers, knowing a loss would lead to Miller's retirement, fought hard, but fell to the Pistons 88–79.

Southeast Division

Miami Heat vs. Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat had a rivalry based on the fact that the two franchises altogether were based in Florida in separate locations, known as the Sunshine State rivalry. Another ingredient to the rivalry was the high-caliber players on both teams such as Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway to Miami's Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. The two had met each other in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 1997, with Miami beating Orlando 3-2, they haven't met in the corresponding playoffs ever since so far.

The rivalry had intensified in the past decade with the rising stardom of Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard, along with Miami acquiring high-caliber stars such LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chris Bosh from the Toronto Raptors and in 2010, resulting in fierce competition between the two.

Recently, when Howard departed from the Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers in August 2012, the rivalry has since softened as the Magic underwent a continuing process of rebuilding, however, competition still remains tense.

When the Southeast Division was created for the 2004-05 season, either the Miami Heat or the Orlando Magic have won the division every season before the Atlanta Hawks took the title in 2015.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic

The Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic had an intense rivalry, mostly stemming from playoff competitions and the rising stardom of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, both from the 2004 NBA Draft and who were both raised in Georgia. Player rivalries often played a big part of both the regular season and postseason matchups. Howard, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat were often in physical and verbal altercations with Hawk players Zaza Pachulia, Joe Johnson, Smith, and Mike Bibby.

The two teams faced each other twice in the 2010 and 2011 NBA playoffs. The Magic had swept the Hawks in the second round of the 2010 playoffs and the Hawks eliminated the Magic 4-2 in the first round of the corresponding 2011 playoffs.

The rivalry has since subsided, with the Magic going through a rebuilding period. However, youngsters such as Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris have provided key roles when the Magic have upset the Hawks in recent years.


Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

The CelticsHawks rivalry is a rivalry in the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association that has lasted for over five decades, although the two teams have played each other since the 1949-50 season, when the then-Tri-City Blackhawks joined the NBA as part of the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America merger. However, the Blackhawks could not field a truly competitive team until they moved to St. Louis as the St. Louis Hawks after a four-year stopover at Milwaukee. The two teams have faced each other twelve times in the NBA Playoffs, four times in the NBA Finals, with the Celtics winning ten of twelve series against the Hawks, including three out of four NBA Finals.[26] While the Hawks have only defeated the Celtics twice out of twelve series in the NBA Playoffs, they still often managed to make their series with the Celtics memorable. The two teams met again in 2008, 2012, and 2016 with each matchup lasting six games in the first round, where they had the Celtics winning twice and the Hawks winning once, in their most recent meeting.

Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls began in the 1980s. In 1981, the Celtics swept the Bulls in a four-game series the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They met again in the Eastern Conference First Round and Boston swept Chicago in a three-game series in 1986 and 1987. In 2009, the rivalry between both teams had renewed and once again faced each other in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Celtics and the Bulls had seven overtimes in total; however, Boston defeated Chicago in a seven-game series.

Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons

The rivalry peaked in the late 1980s, featuring players such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars. They met in the NBA Playoffs 5 times in 7 years from 1985–91, which the Celtics won in 1985 and 1987; the Pistons won in 1988, 1989 and 1991.

Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers began in the 1990s. In 1991, the Celtics defeated the Indiana Pacers in a five-game series in the Eastern Conference First Round. One year later, Boston swept Indiana in a three-game series in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Celtics defeated Pacers in a six-game series after meeting again in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2003. In 2004, Indiana swept Boston in a four-game series in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Pacers defeated the Celtics in a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2005.

Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat

The rivalry began in the 1990s, a decade dominated by Chicago. During that period, the Heat were swept twice in the first round and eliminated a third time by the Bulls, who won the NBA championship each time.

In the post-Michael Jordan era and the rivalry became very physical with rough play and hard fouls. The Bulls beat the Heat in the first round in 2007, and the Heat beat the Bulls in the first round in 2006, the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals with the Heat's new big three, and 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In all three instances that the Heat beat the Bulls in the playoffs, they went on to the NBA Finals, winning twice (in 2006, and again in 2013).

Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks

The Bulls-Knicks rivalry originates during the teams' fierce playoff battles during the late 80's and 90's with Michael Jordan's Bulls almost consistently beating the Knicks. The losing streak ended when the Knicks finally upended the Pippen-led Bulls team in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat

A recent rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat was triggered with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Although the two previously met in the 2004 NBA Playoffs (when Indiana won 4–2), As of 2014, the only two players still left from either team are Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem of the Heat. Both head coaches were fined for statements made relating to the officiating: Frank Vogel accused the Heat of flopping before the series started, while Erik Spoelstra took offense to what he perceived to be deliberate head-hunting of his players on the part of the Pacers. Indiana took a 2–1 lead after Miami's Chris Bosh was sidelined with an abdominal strain. Powered by LeBron James and Wade, Miami won three straight games to take the series, 4–2. The series was marked by several suspensions, flagrant fouls, and confrontations between the players: Tyler Hansbrough's flagrant foul on Wade (which drew blood), Haslem's retaliatory flagrant foul on Hansborough (which led to Haslem's Game 6 suspension), Wade colliding with Darren Collison in transition, Juwan Howard confronting Lance Stephenson over the latter's flashing of the choke sign to James, and Dexter Pittman elbowing Stephenson in the neck (which led to his own three-game suspension). Indiana's Danny Granger received technical fouls in three consecutive games for his confrontations with Heat players; he stripped James of his headband in Game 2 while attempting to block a shot, pulled the back of James' jersey in Game 3 while trying to stop a fast-break, and chest-bumped Wade in Game 4 after the latter was fouled by Roy Hibbert.

The following season saw improvements for both teams, from Miami's acquisition of Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, to the emergence of Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Notably, it was after the Heat lost to the Pacers that they compiled a 27-game winning streak; the last time the Heat lost two in a row in the year were the games against Indiana and Portland. During the waning minutes of Game 6 in the Semifinals between the Pacers and the New York Knicks, the Pacers' fans were chanting "Beat The Heat" as their team beat their old New York rivals. True to form, the Heat and the Pacers met in the Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 22, 2013. Several instances of physicality became prominent in the series: Shane Battier received an offensive foul for throwing his knee at Hibbert's midsection; Hibbert claimed that it was intentional dirty play on the part of Battier. Andersen suffered a bloodied nose after colliding with David West. Ian Mahinmi received a retroactive flagrant foul for a grab of James' arm. Norris Cole latched a hand on West's groin area as he tried to slip through West. Wade received a retroactive flagrant foul for hitting Stephenson in the head, another incident that the Pacers, notably Paul George, felt was a dirty play. The Heat survived Game 1 on a James game-winning layup, while the Pacers came back to tie the series at 1–1 after forcing James into two late fourth-quarter turnovers for Game 2. In Game 3, the Heat set a team record for points in a postseason half with 70. It was the first time the Pacers had given up 70 points since 1992. Allen's single turnover was the least ever suffered by the Heat in a first half. Their five total turnovers is tied for the fewest in franchise history. The Game 3 victory marked the first time that an NBA team had won five straight road games by double digits. The Heat won the series 4–3, with a 99–76 win in game 7.[27] The Pacers and Heat would meet again in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals with the Heat winning the series again this time 4-2.

Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks

Known as one of the fiercest in recent history, it was derived from frequent, and often long, playoff series. Prior to the rivalry, there had never been an occasion in the NBA where two teams had met in the playoffs 4 straight seasons and had each series go the distance each time. The Knicks and Heat thus made history by meeting in the playoffs for the maximum number of games every year from 19972000. The aggressive nature of these games—defensive struggles marked by numerous foul calls and intense physical play—can be traced to the highly defensive style of Pat Riley, former coach of both teams and a central figure of the rivalry. They met again in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Heat won the series 4-1.

New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers

During the 1990s, the Knicks and Pacers were perennial playoff teams. They met in the playoffs 6 times from 1993–2000, fueling a rivalry epitomized by the enmity between Reggie Miller and prominent Knick fan Spike Lee. The rivalry was likened by Miller to the Hatfield–McCoy feud,[28] and described by The New York Times, in 1998 as being "as combustible as any in the league".[29]

The rivalry gave Miller the nickname "The Knick-Killer."[30][31] His clutch performances were frequently followed by jabs at Lee, adding fuel to the greater team rivalry.

Western Conference

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers began in the 1979–80 NBA season, when the Buffalo Braves moved from upstate New York to San Diego and were renamed the Clippers. In the teams' very first game—which was also the first game of the 1979 season as well as of Magic Johnson's career—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a game-winning sky-hook to beat the Bill Walton-led Clippers. Johnson jumped into Abdul-Jabbar's arms with excitement. In 1984, it grew more intense as the Clippers moved to Los Angeles and made the NBA playoffs in the early 1990s as the Lakers started to struggle, prior to the 1999 season, when both teams moved into the Staples Center.

They have many differences, most notably the Lakers' successful history and Clippers' terrible history (at least after they moved from Buffalo). The Clippers first did better than the Lakers during the 2005–06 season, when they achieved a better record and made it to the Western Conference semifinals, while the Lakers were eliminated in the first round. The two teams faced off on the Lakers' ring night at the start of the 2009 season. They split their regular-season series that season. Before 2011, Clippers had only made the playoffs four times since the move to Los Angeles, while the Lakers missed the playoffs just twice during that span.

In 2011, the Clippers traded for New Orleans Hornets' guard Chris Paul, who was a player the Lakers had traded for in a multiple-team deal about a week earlier, before the deal was vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern. Paul was a catalyst to the Los Angeles teams having a role reversal. The "Lob City" Clippers led by Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan soon became a force in the NBA, while the Lakers entered a slump due to star players aging or leaving town.[32]

The rivalry is sometimes called the "Hallway Series" for the 70-foot hallway that separates the two teams' locker rooms at Staples Center.[33] Each team uses their own locker room, but the court and the souvenir shops are changed depending on which is designated as the home team.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors

The rivalry between the Lakers and the Warriors began in the 1967 NBA Playoffs. The Warriors settled in Philadelphia for 16 years. They moved to San Francisco in 1962. In 1971, the team renamed themselves as the Golden State Warriors. Their first meeting was in the Western Division Semi-Finals and the Warriors won the series in a three-game sweep. The Lakers swept the Warriors in four games in the Western Division Finals in 1968 and defeated them in six games in the semi-finals in 1969. In the 1973 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers defeated Golden State in five games in the Western Conference Finals. Four years later, they met again the Western Conference Semi-Finals and the Lakers won the series in seven games. In the next ten years, they met once met again in the semi-finals and the Lakers won over the Warriors in five games. Their last meeting was in 1991 and the Lakers defeated Golden State once again in the semi-finals.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns

The Lakers and Suns first played each other in the 1970 NBA Playoffs. The Suns blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in 7 games. They met in 1980, and the Lakers won in 5. The Lakers won the next four meetings in 1982, 1984, 1985, and 1989: 4–0, 4–2, 3–0, and 4-0. In the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals, the Suns finally won, 4-1.

They met in the 1993 NBA Playoffs, the 62-20 Suns were the #1 seed in the West. Led by veteran James Worthy, L.A. won the first 2 in America West Arena (now US Airways Center). Suns head coach Paul Westphal guaranteed the Suns would come back and win the series. Phoenix, led by league MVP Charles Barkley, won the next 2 in the Great Western Forum (the Lakers' home court). In Game 5, Phoenix won and escaped a tough series.

In the 2000 NBA Playoffs, the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led Lakers won 4-1.

They met in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs. The Suns were the second-seed in the West, thanks in part to back-to-back NBA MVP Steve Nash and Shawn Marion, and improvements by Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, beneficiaries of the Suns' "run-and-gun" offense. The seventh-seeded Lakers were led by scoring champion, Bryant, and head coach Phil Jackson. Phoenix won Game 1, but lost the next three games. Game 4 ended dramatically. As time was closing, two Lakers cornered Nash at the sideline, and forced a turnover. The turnover allowed Bryant to hit a game-tying layup to force overtime (OT). In the final seconds of OT, the Lakers won a jump ball and it was given to Bryant, who hit a game-winning buzzer-beater. Phoenix won Game 5, but Raja Bell clotheslined Bryant and was suspended for Game 6. The teams exchanged words during practices in response. Bell said Bryant was "arrogant" and received "special treatment" from the referees. Bryant, after the game, stated that he "didn't know the kid." And then suggested that Bell was not hugged enough in his childhood. In the final seconds of Game 6 Tim Thomas hit a game-tying 3 to send it to OT. The Suns won. Game 7 was a blowout for the Suns who completed a 3–1 series comeback.

A year later they met again. It looked like the Lakers would win Game 1 behind Bryant's 39 points, but Phoenix won 95–87. The Suns won Game 2, 126–98. Bryant only had 15 points. He scored 45 in Game 3, the Lakers won 95–89. The Suns took Game 4 113–100 behind Nash's career-high 23 assists, one shy of the NBA playoff record. The Lakers down 3–1, like the Suns a year earlier, could not pull off a series comeback and lost Game 5, 119–110.

They met in the 2010 NBA Playoffs in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers had home court and dominated the first two games. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry implemented a zone defense to slow the Lakers offense. Many in the sports media credited this change for helping the Suns hold home-court by winning Games 3 and 4. The Lakers led for most of Game 5 until the Suns tied it after a Jason Richardson 3 in the fourth. With 3.7 seconds left, Kobe missed a long jumper, but Laker Ron Artest caught the ball and made the game winning layup. Despite a late run by the Suns in the fourth of Game 6 the Lakers won 111–103.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings

In a rivalry that was years in the making, the upstart Kings would develop a hated, & competitive rivalry with the Lakers in the 2000s. In 2000, the Lakers were the best team in the league. However, the 8th-seeded Kings surprised everyone and pushed them in the first round, but lost the series 3-2. After the Kings traded for Doug Christie the Kings looked poise to challenge the reigning, defending champion Lakers, but In 2001, the Lakers swept the Kings in the Western Conference semifinals. However the Kings traded for Mike Bibby & earned the top playoff seed in the 2002 NBA Playoffs. In the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the Kings went toe-to-toe with the back-to-back NBA Champion Lakers. In one of the most memorable playoff series of all time, & numerous buzzer beaters Sacramento was favored and went up 3-2 in the series. The Kings lost Game 6 at Staples Center in Los Angeles on what many call the most controversial Playoff game of all time. The Kings lost game 7 in Sacramento in OT, & the Lakers would end up three-peating. NBA expert Roland Beech analyzed the calls and stated that he found that the controversial calls favored the Lakers not in huge numbers (9 total calls), but a lopsided (7-2) rate, however many believe the NBA pushed for a game 7 seeing as how the Finals looked to be a lopsided series whether it was the Kings or the Lakers playing the Nets. Fights would occur in the ongoing years including the Rick Fox & Doug Christie famous brawl. As well & Shaq dissing Sacramento. Fans hated each other as well. However, as the Kings have fell from atop the Western Conference powerhouses as has the rivalry in recent years.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors

In the 1990s and 2000s, both teams were the laughingstock[peacock term] of the NBA usually battling for last place in the Pacific Division.[citation needed] The rivalry started right after the start of 2013 in a game in Oracle Arena in Oakland. Clippers forward Blake Griffin airballed a three-pointer, causing extreme reactions and taunts from the Warriors' bench and the Warriors won that game. They then played again three days later at Staples Center in Los Angeles where Clippers dominated and Lob City was in full effect. On January 23, they played for the third time in January at Oracle Arena. Blake Griffin air-balled a 3-point again causing similar results from the Warriors' bench and the Warriors won. During the off-season, the Clippers hired coach Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics.

The rivalry took a huge step forward in the 2013-2014 season. Their first meeting was on Halloween and the game was nationally-televised. During the game, Warriors center Andrew Bogut did a hard foul on Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who is a poor free-throw shooter. Jordan responded by shoving Bogut, and Bogut shoved Jordan back causing more players and officials to get involved. The Clippers won 126-115. They also met on Christmas Day featuring two ejections. Warriors forward Draymond Green got ejected for elbowing Blake Griffin at the end of the third quarter. Griffin got ejected later during the fourth quarter. The Warriors won 105-103. After the game, Clippers point guard Chris Paul and Andrew Bogut started a fight involving players and coaches from both teams.

They met in the 2014 NBA Playoffs in the first round and it got intense. The Warriors barely won Game 1 in Los Angeles, but the Clippers responded by winning Game 2 by 40 points. They also escaped by winning Game 3 in Oracle Arena. After the game, the Clippers owner Donald Sterling was accused for saying racist comments on tape about African Americans. He ended up facing a lifetime ban after the Warriors blowout win in Game 4. The Clippers won Game 5 in Staples Center where Warriors guard Stephen Curry had 8 turnovers, so the Warriors were on the brink of elimination. The Warriors barely won Game 6 in Oakland avoiding elimination, leading to Game 7. Game 7 was intense, where the Warriors dominated in the first half and the Clippers in the second half. The Clippers won in a shootout 126-121. Afterwards, the Warriors fired coach Mark Jackson and later hired Steve Kerr.

In the 2014-2015 season, they met on Christmas Day for the second straight year, but this time, the game was in Staples Center, where the Clippers won. Despite the Clippers win, the Warriors won the other 3 meetings. They failed to meet in 2015 Western Conference finals.

In the 2015-2016 season, the Warriors 2 games against them in their outstanding 24-0 start. The first game was in Oracle and the Warriors won 112-108. They won in Staples Center a couple of weeks later overcoming a 23-point deficit. A few months after that, the Clippers almost turned the tables on the Warriors in exactly the same manner, cutting a 16-point deficit to just three points, only for C. J. Wilcox's potential game-tying three-pointer to come up well short. Golden State swept LA this season.

Southwest Division

The rivalries are known as the Texas Triangle.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs

The rivalry between the Rockets and Spurs started in 1976, when the Spurs moved from the ABA as a result of the merger. The two teams faced off in the 1980 playoffs. The Rockets led by Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy beat the Spurs led by George Gervin and James Silas 2-1. The rivalry grew as both moved to the West the next season. That year the 40-42 Rockets and the Spurs, winner of the Midwest title at 52-30, played to a decisive game seven in the Western Conference Semifinals which the Rockets won in large part due to Murphy's 42 points.

In 1995, the 6th-seeded defending champion Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, beat the top-seeded Spurs, led by MVP David Robinson. Robinson received his MVP trophy during the series, which was said to have fueled Hakeem.

It is also known as the I-10 Rivalry, since both Houston and San Antonio lie on Interstate 10.

A highlight in the rivalry took place in 2004; Tracy McGrady led the Rockets to a comeback win against the Spurs who were up by 10 points in the final minute of the game, scoring 13 points in the last 35 seconds.

Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs

The rivalry between the Mavericks and Spurs began in 1980, when the Mavericks joined the NBA as an expansion team. The rivalry intensified in the 2001 NBA Playoffs. The Spurs defeated the Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Semifinals that year. The Spurs also defeated the Mavericks in 2003, 2010, and 2014; while the Mavericks defeated the Spurs in 2006 and 2009. This is also known is the I-35 rivalry because both Dallas and San Antonio lie on Interstate 35.

In the 2001 playoffs, the Spurs won 4-1 despite losing Derek Anderson to a separated shoulder after a hard Flagrant 2 foul from Mavericks center Juwan Howard in Game 1. Without their second-leading scorer, the Spurs would go on to get swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.[34] Otherwise, little else was made of the series because the Mavericks, run by a trio of Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Dirk Nowitzki, were only starting to meld into contenders.

Both had 60-win seasons in 2003 and met in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs won in six games.

In 2005, the rivalry changed. Near the end of the regular season, Mavericks' head coach Don Nelson resigned. Avery Johnson, a member of the 1999 champion Spurs took over. Since Johnson had been coached by Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich, he was familiar with Popovich's coaching style and philosophy. Also, during the 2005 offseason, Finley had been waived by the Mavericks and joined the Spurs.

They met in the 2006 playoffs. San Antonio won Game 1 at home 87-85. In Game 3, Manu Ginobili could have hit a shot with 5 seconds left, he committed an error, he allowed the ball to bounce away with 1 second left and Dallas won, 104-103. Dallas won Game 4, 123-118 in overtime. The Spurs won Game 5, 98-97. In the final seconds of that game, Jason Terry punched former teammate Finley below the belt leading to his suspension for Game 6, which the Spurs won 91-86. In Game 7, with 2.6 seconds left, Nowitzki converted a 3-point play to force OT. Ginóbili, the one who fouled Dirk, had given San Antonio their first lead a possession earlier. Tim Duncan, who had played all 48 minutes of regulation was too fatigued to carry the Spurs in OT. The Mavs won Game 7, 119-111.

Despite anticipation of a meeting in the 2007 Western Conference Finals, the 8th-seeded Warriors upset the top seeded Mavericks.[35][36] The Spurs went on to win the 2007 NBA championship.[37][38] Spurs claimed a drive to win was partially to get Finley his first championship, especially since he had lost a series to his longtime team the year before.

It is also worth noting that in a regular season game in April 2007, Duncan had his first career ejection for supposedly laughing while on the bench. Joey Crawford, the referee who ejected Duncan, allegedly asked Duncan to a fight which led to the longtime ref's season-ending suspension. As Duncan went to the locker room, American Airlines Center erupted into a huge cheer. The Mavericks won 91-86.

In the 2009 NBA Playoffs, they met in the first round. San Antonio had finished with a better record, but struggled because Ginobili had suffered a season-ending injury. Dallas won the series 4-1.

The next year they met in the first round. The Mavericks were the 2 seed and Spurs the 7. In one game, Nowitzki inadvertently broke Ginobili's nose. Ginobili was out for five minutes before he came back and rallied the Spurs to victory. In the next game, Eduardo Najera was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul when he prevented a layup by wrapping his arm around Ginobili's neck and yanking him to the ground. Najera also received a flagrant 1 foul the next game for gouging his fingers into Tony Parker's eyes while attempting to block a shot. The Spurs would go on to win the series.

In the 2014 NBA Playoffs, they met in the first round with the Spurs as the 1st seed and the Mavericks the 8th. While less heated than most previous series, it still had its moments. DeJuan Blair, and former Spur and current Maverick at the time, was ejected from Game 4 and suspended from Game 5 for kicking Tiago Splitter in the head after the two had fallen to the ground. With Dallas facing elimination and trailing in the 4th quarter of Game 6, the momentum swung heavily in their favor after what many in the national media considered to be the "Flop of Year" by Vince Carter, who drew an offensive foul on the Spurs by flinging himself backwards after minimal contact from running into Kawhi Leonard's outstretched hand.[39] The Spurs blew Dallas out 119-96 in Game 7 to win the series and would go on to win the 2014 NBA Championship.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets

The rivalry between the Mavericks and Rockets is an interstate rivalry. This is also known as the I-45 rivalry because both Dallas and Houston lie on Interstate 45. The rivalry started when the Mavericks were the last Texas team to join the NBA in 1980. The Mavericks defeated the Rockets in the 1988, and 2005 playoffs and the Rockets swept several season series with the Mavericks during the 1990s during the Rockets' championship years.

In the 2015 NBA Playoffs, they met in the first round with the Rockets as the #2 seed and the Mavericks the #7 seed. The Rockets went on to win the best-of-seven series over the Mavericks in 5 games.


Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz playing at EnergySolutions Arena in 2008

The rivalry between the Jazz and Rockets began in the 1990s, when the Houston Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon, and the Utah Jazz, led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, were playoff powers in the Midwest Division. The teams played four times in the NBA Playoffs during the decade. In all four instances, the winner was the eventual Western Conference champion and made the NBA Finals. The teams also later faced each other twice in a row in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, both won by the Jazz.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

The rivalry between the Lakers and Spurs has its roots beginning in the 1970s. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a rivalry developed. Since 1999, the teams have met in the NBA Playoffs five times. They combined to appear in seven consecutive NBA Finals (1999–05), and combined to win each NBA championship from 1999–03. The Spurs won the NBA championship in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014; the Lakers in 2000-02, 2009 and 2010. From 1999–04 the rivalry was often considered the premier rivalry in the NBA,[40] and each time they faced each other in the playoffs the winner advanced to the NBA Finals. The Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005 and lost in the first round in 2006 and 2007, but in 2008 they met in the Western Conference Finals. It is considered one of the greatest rivalries of the 2000s as the two combined to win six titles in eight seasons.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns

The rivalry between the Spurs and Suns began in the 1990s, when the Spurs were led by David Robinson, and the Suns by a number of players that included: Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Tom Chambers. It continued into the next decade with the Spurs led by Tim Duncan and the Suns headed by Steve Nash. The rivalry also allegedly prevented Spurs coach Gregg Popovich from coaching the USA Basketball team in the 2008 Summer Olympics.[41]

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

The rivalry between the Lakers and Rockets began in the 1980s during the Lakers' Showtime era (though it had roots in 1967, when the Rockets began play in San Diego). The teams have met eight times in the postseason. In the 1980s either the Lakers or Rockets represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

In 1981, the reigning champion Lakers faced the 40-42 Rockets, but were upset 2-1 in the first round. The Rockets eventually made the NBA Finals. Five years later, they met again in the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers took the first game, but the Rockets swept the next four capped by Ralph Sampson's famous game winner. In 1990 and 1991, both in the first round, the Lakers won 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. The Rockets took the 1996 first round 3-1 against the Lakers who were led by a returned Magic Johnson. They have met a few times in the playoffs since, the Lakers have won all the series though. The most recent was in 2009, the Rockets pushed the eventual champions to 7 games in the Semifinals. The rivalry would eventually start up again due to big-man Dwight Howard. Howard came to Los Angeles for the 2012-2013 season with championship aspiration but due to Kobe Bryant & struggles with the team & its failure to make a playoff berth, Howard left LA as a free agent & joined the Houston Rockets. Upon returning to LA, Howard receives boo's & utter disapproval from the crowd. Howard & Bryant have had exchanges of words & even a slight scuffle where Bryant would repeatedly call Howard "soft".

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks

The rivalry between the Lakers and Mavericks began in the 1980s during the Lakers' Showtime era. In the 1984 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers won over the Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals with the series 4-1. In 1986, they met again in the semifinals and the Lakers won the series 4-2. In the 1988 NBA Playoffs, the Lakers, who were the defending champions, defeated the Mavericks in a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals and eventually became the back-to-back champions after winning the NBA Finals. In 2011, the Mavericks met the two-time defending champions Lakers in the semifinals and rejected their three-peat by sweeping them in four games and eventually won the NBA Finals. In Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Ron Artest was ejected for hitting J.J. Barea and suspended for Game 3. In Game 4, Lamar Odom was ejected for pushing Dirk Nowitzki and then Andrew Bynum was ejected for elbowing J.J. Barea. Both players received flagrant foul 2. After the 2011 NBA lockout, Lamar Odom was sent to the Mavericks after he requested to leave the Lakers due to the vetoed Chris Paul trade. Andrew Bynum made a formal apology on what he did to Barea before the start of the following season.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers

The rivalry between the Lakers and Trail Blazers started in the 1991 playoffs. Lakers star Magic Johnson's career was winding down and the Blazers were coming into an era of Western Conference prominence with Clyde Drexler. The teams played for the Western Conference's berth in the NBA Finals. Another key point was in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when the Blazers collapsed in the fourth-quarter of Game 7. From 2000 to the present, the Lakers have beaten the Blazers in the playoffs, but the Blazers have beaten the Lakers more in the regular season, especially at the Rose Garden (currently the Moda Center).

Historical Rivalries

The I-5 Rivalry

The I-5 Rivalry was a rivalry between the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers. It was so named because of the Interstate 5 Highway that connects Seattle and Portland. It ended with the Seattle SuperSonics relocation to Oklahoma City in 2008, where they are now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.


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