National Basketball Association rivalries
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.
- 1 Interconference rivalries
- 2 Eastern Conference
- 2.1 Atlantic Division
- 2.2 Central Division
- 2.3 Interdivisional
- 3 Western Conference
- 3.1 Pacific Division
- 3.2 Southwest Division
- 3.3 Interdivisional
- 4 Historical Rivalries
- 5 References
Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
This rivalry involves the two most storied franchises in NBA history. It has been called the best rivalry in the NBA. 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 and three times in the 1980s.
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 they 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 half of the 66 championships in NBA history.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons
This rivalry is between the Lakers and Pistons. 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.
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. The Sixers are considered to be the Celtics' second greatest rival to the Los Angeles Lakers.
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).
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).
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 124–117. 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.
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 Nets' move into New York City with the construction of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn has reignited the rivalry. 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 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.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Chicago Bulls
The rivalry started in 1974 when the Bucks kept the Bulls from winning their division and conference. This impediment was highlighted in the 1974 NBA Playoffs, when the Bucks swept them in the Conference Finals. The rivalry peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s; both were frequent playoff contenders. The Bucks were the first to defeat the Michael Jordan led Bulls in his playoff debut, 3-1. They next met the first round of the 1990 NBA Playoffs, the Bulls won 3-1.
Mainly due to the rivalries of teams in different sports, such as the Bears–Packers rivalry (the Packers play in Green Bay, not Milwaukee but they are in the same state) in the NFL, and Brewers–Cubs rivalry in Major League Baseball. It is still fierce due to the proximity of the two cities. During Bucks-Bulls games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, it was either split or filled mostly with Bulls' fans. Due to Bulls' fans filling a majority of the Bucks' arena, it has been unofficially dubbed as the United Center North by some Chicago sportswriters.
Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
It started in the 1988 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. 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 attacked Jordan with a flurry of seemingly unprovoked punches. 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 remained unremarkable throughout the rest of the decade[clarification needed] 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.
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.
Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers
This rivalry 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 "They Will Not Win Game 2" during an interview before the second game (locally known as the "Guaran-Sheed" victory). 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, who started it, carried the longest penalty: the entire season.
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, knew a loss would lead to Miller's retirement, fought hard, but fell to the Pistons 88–79.
Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Celtics-Hawks 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 eleven times in the NBA Playoffs, four times in the NBA Finals, with the Celtics winning ten of eleven series against the Hawks, including three out of four NBA Finals. While the Hawks have only defeated the Celtics once out of eleven series in the NBA Playoffs, they still often managed to make their series with the Celtics memorable.
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. Miami Heat
This three year rivalry started when they met in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, and Boston won in 5. That offseason, the Heat resigned Dwyane Wade and acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Because of Boston's trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, the media compared both teams as they became favorites in the East. In the 2010–11 NBA season, the Celtics beat the Heat in their first three match ups, all the games went down to the final minute. However, in Miami's regular season home finale, a game both teams needed to win in order to clinch the second seed in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Heat won by 23. They met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals; the Heat won in 5. They met in the 2012 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals. Miami won in 7. After the season, Allen signed with the Heat.
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 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
The rivalry was between 1989–96. The intensity was unique due to a number of factors. These included the frequency with which the teams competed against one another in high-stakes contests, the reputations of the team's respective cities, and personnel changes and conflicts between the teams.
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 Miller and prominent Knick fan Spike Lee. The rivalry was likened by Miller to the Hatfield–McCoy feud, and described by The New York Times, in 1998 as being "as combustible as any in the league".
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 1997–2000. 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.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
They first became rivals in the 1979-80 NBA season when the Buffalo Braves moved from upstate New York to San Diego. In their very first game, which was also the first game of the 1979 season as well as Magic Johnson's career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a game-winning sky hook to beat the Bill Walton led Clippers. Magic memorably jumped into Kareem's arms with excitement. In 1984 it grew more intense as the Clippers moved to L.A. and made the playoffs in the early 1990s as the Lakers started to dry up, prior to the 1999 season when they both 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 met on the Lakers ring night at the start of the 2009 season. They split their regular season series that season. The Clippers have only made the playoffs four times since the move to L.A. while the Lakers have only missed the playoffs twice during that span.
In 2011, the Clippers traded for New Orleans Hornets' star Chris Paul, a player the Lakers had traded for about a week earlier before the deal was vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern and Paul was traded to the Clippers.
The rivalry is sometimes called the "Hallway Series" for the 70-foot hallway that separates the two teams' locker rooms at Staples Center. Each 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. Phoenix Suns
They first met in the 1970 NBA Playoffs. The Suns blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in 7. 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.
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 2000 the Lakers were the best team in the league. But the 8th-seeded Kings surprised everyone and pushed them in the first round, but lost the series 3-2. In 2001, the Lakers swept the Kings in the Semifinals. In the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the Kings were favored and went up 3-2 in the series. The Kings lost Game 6 in L.A. on what many call the most controversial Playoff Game of all time. NBA expert Roland Beech analyzed the calls and stated that he found that the questionable, or to his eyes, flat out wrong, calls favored the Lakers not in huge numbers (9 total calls), but a lopsided (7-2) rate.
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs
The rivalry started in 1976 when the Spurs moved from the ABA. They met 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.
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 Spurs defeated the Mavericks in 2001, 2003, and 2010; while the Mavericks defeated the Spurs in 2006 and 2009.
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. The Spurs went on to win the 2007 NBA championship. 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.
Worth noting, 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 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 foul when he threw Ginobili onto the ground in the middle of a layup.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets
An NBA interstate rivalry, both in Texas linked by I-45, that started when the Mavericks where the last Texas team to join the NBA. 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.
Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets
It 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. In 2007 they met again in the playoffs, the Jazz won the series 4-3.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
They have played each other since 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 and 2007; the Lakers in 2000-02, 2009 and 2010. From 1999–04 the rivalry was often considered the premier rivalry in the NBA, 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
It 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.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets
The rivalry 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.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers
It 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 beat the Blazers in the playoffs, but the Blazers have beaten the Lakers more in the regular season, especially at the Rose Garden.
The I-5 Rivalry
The I-5 Rivalry was a rivalry between the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers, 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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