Rivalry game: Best NBA battles
5-on-5 Roundtable: Top player, team rivalries of NBA's past, present, future
Nets vs. Knicks. Celtics vs. Heat. Kobe vs. Shaq. Yup, we're talking about rivalries. Our 5-on-5 crew debates some of their favorite rivalries from the past and present and looks ahead to the future.
1. What's the best NBA team rivalry right now?
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Knicks-Nets. The NBA's current rivalries are so tame, I'll take this one on potential alone. Both teams have looked good so far and are trying to prove they belong in the upper echelon. Add the fight for fans in their shared city, and this one is more than hype.
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Heat-Celtics. Ray Allen left a trail of gasoline behind when he bolted Boston for Miami, and now the rivalry is burning hotter than ever. Between Allen's betrayal, Kevin Garnett's emotional instability, Rajon Rondo's mercurial ways and the condescending nature of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, this rivalry has all the drama it needs to keep going strong.
Aaron McGuire, Gothic Ginobili: Celtics-Heat. It isn't the most historic rivalry, and to some extent, it's artificially produced. But the storylines are myriad and the quality of play is always great. The Celtics, for whatever reason, have played better offensively against the Heat for the past two seasons than they have against any other team in the NBA. On a regular basis, it's extremely fun to watch.
Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Heat-Celtics. Miami and Boston have a genuine disdain for each other. Ray Allen -- an original member of the Celtics' Big Three -- defecting to the Heat as a free agent during the offseason has only increased the animosity between the two teams.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: It's gotta be Lakers-Clippers for one simple fact: It's the only pro game in town right now. There's no NFL team to grab attention. Hockey is dead for now and baseball season is over. Add in the fact that the Clippers are finally legit and boast an MVP candidate in Chris Paul, and you've got the Lakers' full attention.
2. What's the best NBA player rivalry right now?
Feldman: Zach Randolph-Kendrick Perkins, and for the record, I'm taking Randolph. These two enforcers nearly fought last week, and more rivalries need that extra juice. The Thunder are reigning Western Conference champions, but the Grizzlies have the conference's best record this season, so hopefully this rivalry spills over to the teams and into the playoffs.
Foster: Blake Griffin-DeMarcus Cousins. Boogie Cousins called Blake Griffin an actor. Griffin responded by telling everyone to consider the source. Shots fired, but they're accurate ones. Cousins is too real for his own good and Griffin comes off as incredibly fake on the court. There's some jealousy and a lot of bad blood brewing here, and it's not going away.
McGuire: Kevin Durant's rivalry with Warriors training camp invitee Lil B takes the cake as the most heated, but his rivalry with LeBron James remains the most important. Also the one most likely to decide an NBA Finals series, as well.
Rivera: LeBron-Durant. It's convenient that the two best players in the NBA also play the same position. That has made the individual matchup something to behold when the Heat and Thunder face off against each other (such as in the 2012 NBA Finals).
Wallace: Kendrick Perkins-Zach Randolph. Forget Pacquiao-Mayweather, which may never happen. Thanks to NBA conference scheduling, we already know we'll get at least a few more rounds between Z-Bo and Perk, who carried their last on-court beef into the arena hallways and locker room areas. The intense rivalry between their respective teams is just as fascinating.
3. What's the best NBA team rivalry of the past decade?
Feldman: Cavaliers-Wizards. Though Cleveland won all three of its playoff series against Washington, this one had a weird appeal. LeBron James taunting Gilbert Arenas for missing free throws was one thing. DeShawn Stevenson calling LeBron overrated was another. But a mini beef between Jay-Z and Soulja Boy? Oh boy, when those two are taking sides it's strangely compelling.
Foster: Lakers-Kings. Robert Horry's game-winner. The Game 6 screw job. Cowbells. Floppy Divac. Kobe and Shaq in their primes. Scot Pollard's hair! It may have been short-lived, and the Lakers may have had rivalries with, oh, half the teams in the league over the past decade, but this one was the best of the bunch.
McGuire: There have been many great rivalries to mull on over the past decade -- Spurs-Mavs, Celtics-Cavs and Lakers-Suns come to mind. But none match the precedent and glitz of the late-aughts Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Kobe, Pau, Pierce, Garnett -- it was a constant battle between teams that legitimately couldn't stand each other. It was exactly what a great rivalry represents.
Rivera: Spurs-Suns. If only Joe Johnson didn't fracture his orbital bone in 2005 and Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw didn't get suspended for leaving the bench after Robert Horry body-checked Steve Nash in 2007. Out of their four playoff meetings between 2005-10, those two series could have been legendary.
Wallace: Lakers-Spurs. If titles are the barometer, then no rivalry from 2002-12 has produced as many eventual champions as the Spurs and Lakers. While they haven't met one another every year in the playoffs during that span, it has typically been one or the other representing the West. Even now, their matchups produce plenty of fireworks.
4. What's the best NBA player rivalry of the past decade?
Feldman: Shaq-Kobe. This rivalry was excellent even while they played together, but when Shaq and Kobe split a decade ago, it really picked up. Though they both had their specialties -- Shaq, immaturity; Kobe, pettiness -- each had enough of both traits to really get on each other's nerves. Oh, and they each won titles without the other, so both are convinced they were right all along.
Foster: Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal. It was basketball's version of Mayweather-Pacquiao. Tons of buildup and lots of accusations all leading to Kobe and Shaq's first showdown as anything other than teammates back on Christmas Day 2004. Though they didn't clash on the court very often, the basketball world stopped whenever they did.
McGuire: You mean besides Kobe vs. Smush? To me, the most contentious rivalry of the past decade lies in the ongoing mutual hatred between Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. The two Hall of Fame forwards absolutely despise each other and the hate seethes whenever they play each other. Watch the chippy little things. Expressions, nudges, scowls. It's a treat.
Rivera: LeBron-Durant. It's worth repeating: It's convenient that the two best players in the NBA also play the same position. It's also convenient that LeBron (28) and Durant (24) are in the prime of their careers. It's a match made in basketball heaven.
Wallace: Kobe-Shaq. They won three titles together as feuding teammates, and collectively went on to win three more as feuding ex-teammates. Had they put their egos and differences aside years ago, there's no telling how many more titles the Lakers could have strung together. But then again, we would have been deprived of all the fun and juicy scandal had those two been choirboys.
5. What will be the best NBA rivalry in the near future?
Feldman: Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy is too good of a coach to remain out of work for long, and both he and Howard probably lack the restraint to put this one behind them. I can't wait to see how they talk about each other when they're on different teams, and games against each other should be a lot of fun too.
Foster: Brooklyn-New York. This rivalry has the star power, the financial backing, and the most ardent fan base in basketball divided and bumping into each other on a daily basis. This is going to be good.
McGuire: Sometime in three or four years, I think the rather chippy three-way feud between LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love will blossom into a full-on bloodsport rivalry. There's already bad blood from Aldridge because of his 2011 All-Star snub. Perhaps one falls off and leaves a traditional two-man rivalry, but even if that happens, this combination's a winner -- some set of these three should form one of the NBA's hottest tickets in the near future.
Rivera: Who knows? That's a tough question to answer because there are so many variables that come into play. It's a difficult thing to predict. If one thing is certain, it's that the possibilities are endless in a league that's always changing and evolving.
Wallace: Rondo-Rose. We saw a glimpse of what these two could do against one another during that remarkable playoff series a couple of years ago. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that Rose gets right physically from major knee surgery so we can see this showdown again soon, and for years to come in the East.
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