Part 2: Top 5 Biggest Rivalries in the NBA Today
G'day Hivean friends and my beloved Sports Talk Social tribe. Here's the second and final part of my two part series of the biggest rivalries in the NBA. The peak of NBA rivalries were through the 80s and 90s but there is still a lot of ill feelings from rivalries that peaked during those periods, as well as new rivalries that have developed. You can check out part 1 here:
LA Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
The Lakers and Spurs have a special rivalry and at one stage was considered to be the biggest rivalry in the NBA. The Lakers are the only team that has a winning overall record against the Spurs in both the regular season and the playoffs.
The rivalry kicked off with San Antonio winning their first title in 1999. Throughout the 2000s the Lakers and Spurs dominated the Western Conference with the pair meeting each other in the playoffs four times, the Lakers winning three series. Shaquille O'Neal would depart the Lakers in 2004 with the Lakers taking a turn. The Spurs would then dominate the Western Conference winning three championships between 2003-2007.
One of the most memorable moments of the rivalry was when Derek Fisher made an impossible fadeaway in the Western Conference semifinals in 2004. With the series tied at 2-all and with just 0.4 seconds left, Tim Duncan gave San Antonio the lead. Fisher then hit an impossible fadeaway just before the buzzer sounded to give the Lakers a win and the momentum to win the series.
Adding some more spice to the Lakers-Spurs rivalry is Robert Horry who spent six years with the Lakers, winning three championships. Horry would sign for the Spurs in 2003 and played a surprisingly key role in helping the San Antonio to two titles in five years. Dennis Rodman also played for both the Spurs and the Lakers as did Pau Gasol and Danny Green.
New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat
The Heat-Knicks rivalry was at one stage the most fiercest in the NBA. The peak of the rivalry was between 1997-2000 where both teams met in the playoffs for four years straight, the first time that's ever happened in NBA history. The Knicks got the better of the Heat, winning three of those four series which were all played with intense defensive struggles, many foul calls and aggressive physicality.
Patrick Ewing vs. Alonzo Mourning was one of the best matchups in the Heat-Knicks rivalry, the pair meeting 22 times in the regular season and 23 times in playoff games between 1992-2002. Ewing has a better record over Mourning, winning 25-20 overall and 14-9 in playoffs. Historically the head-to-head record between the Knicks and the Heat is very close.
Interestingly one of the most contentious moments in the rivalry was off the court, when beloved New York coach Pat Riley left the Big Apple for Miami. Riley's signing to the Knicks in 1991 was instrumental in keeping Patrick Ewing in New York and making a complete U-turn from free agency. What made things worse was that Riley told the Knicks he was leaving in a fax to the Knicks front office.
Losing Riley was significant because of how he was able to transform the Knicks into the strongest, most conditioned and physical team in the league. Unfortunately for the Knicks he couldn't bring ultimate glory to New York, their last championship in 1973. Riley would however end up guiding the Heat to an NBA Championship in 2006.
Detroit Pistons vs. Chicago Bulls
The Pistons-Bulls rivalry began in the late 80's and was one of the most fiercest in the NBA for years. Geographically the areas are quite close - separated by 280-miles - and both Chicago and Detroit are the two largest metro areas in the Midwest, sharing rivalries across many sports.
Both the Pistons and Bulls were Eastern Conference contenders in the 80s and 90s. Initially the 'Bad Boys' of Detroit got on top of the Bulls by carefully devised the 'Jordan Rules', a strategy used to limit the impact Michael Jordan had on games. The game plan involved limiting Jordan from taking clutch shots as well as playing a physically imposing defense. Through 1988-1990 the plan worked as the Pistons knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs in three straight seasons on their way to winning back-to-back championships.
At the turn of the 90's, Bulls coach Phil Jackson deployed the Triangle Offense which changed the entire course of the Chicago Bulls franchise and added fuel to the the Pistons-Bulls rivalry. The Bulls would win six championships throughout the 90's, Jordan ultimately too explosive and dangerous to keep in check.
One of the most intense feuds of all-time was created in the Pistons-Bulls rivalry: Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. Where feuds have healed and players have reconciled over time, the Jordan-Thomas rivalry has never faded. Jordan believes that Thomas was behind the infamous 'Freezeout' of Jordan at the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. It's also said that Isiah, a Chicago native, wasn't pleased with Jordan transforming the Bulls and having the entire city of Chicago behind him. Jordan has admitted to hating Thomas, but respecting his game enough to rank Thomas as the second best point guard of all-time.
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