In a clash between potential championship contenders, the Cleveland Cavaliers visited the Houston Rockets in Texas early this month. They were not loaded with superstars, but they were also led by two best players — James Harden and LeBron James. The game saw James fill the stat sheet with 37 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks. Not to be outdone, Harden finished with 33 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots.
The game was won by the Rockets, 105-103 in overtime, and though they had memorable performances, people will best remember them for two things in that game; LeBron James missing the potential game-tying and clinching free throws, and James Harden’s kick to James’ groin.
In today’s NBA, we rarely see the best players go at it in what we could consider a rivalry. We no longer have the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson battles, or the Detroit Pistons against Michael Jordan, and the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James rivalry was reduced to a debate rather than an on-court thing. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, or maybe it’s all the rules and decorum that the NBA subjects its players to.
In an edition of NBA Gametime, they featured a discussion by Bleacher Report about potential rivalries in the NBA. Taking their cue from Harden and James, they also hoped for a rivalry between Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, as well as Steph Curry and Chris Paul.
Here’s a look at other rivalries we’d like to see in the NBA:
Aside from Harden, we also want to see LeBron against the San Antonio Spurs (round 3, with a new crew) or Kevin Durant (battle of MVPs). However, there are other teams that could emerge from both conferences who could potentially have a good rivalry to watch out for.
PG Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks) vs. PG Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)
When longtime San Antonio assistant coach Mike Budenhozer took over the head coaching position in Atlanta at the beginning of last season, he thought about making Jeff Teague his Tony Parker. Of course, with a new system and new personnel to work with, the Hawks struggled to start the 2013-2014 season and Teague wasn’t exactly looking like Parker out there. However, a late push in the season propelled the Hawks into playoff contention, clinching the 8th spot in the East after the regular season. This year, they’re on top of the East and are legitimately looking like Finals contenders. On the other side of the fence, the San Antonio Spurs are on the bottom rung of their conference, but nobody’s panicking as they usually do their thing in the Playoffs. They find a way year after year to become championship contenders. Parker is the youngest among the Spurs’ big three, and there could still be a chance that this develops into a rivalry especially if they meet in the Finals.
C Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies) vs. PF/C Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)
Former Defensive Players of the Year awardees, both are in teams who put a premium on defense. This might not be too huge of a rivalry because they only meet twice in the regular season with their current teams. However, if their teams reach the NBA Finals, which is unlikely but isn’t impossible, this might be a great individual and team match-up. Both big men are great passers from the post, and they can grab boards for their teams if need be.
They meet more than twice a year, but not as much as they meet their division rivals. They do have a higher chance to meet in the Playoffs.
PF/C LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trailblazers) vs. PF Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
Griffin is an athletic freak of nature who excites crowd with his physical gifts. Aldridge is a hybrid of the new and old school power forward; he can bang bodies inside like the power forwards of old, but he can stretch the defense with his range. Their contrast of styles could represent the old and new type of player, and which could be more effective in winning titles. Of course, one of them has to win it at some point in the future.
PF/C Chris Bosh (Miami Heat) vs. PF/C Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Bosh was the main man in Toronto before playing the third option in Miami. While many questioned his skills, he did appear in four NBA Finals series and won two championships playing that role. He also shut people up with an excellent first season without LeBron James before he found out about blood clots in his lungs that ended his season prematurely. Love may be trying to do the same by giving up his position in Minnesota to be the third option to LeBron and Kyrie Irving. If Love decides to stay in Cleveland beyond this season, he and Bosh could make a great matchup; Bosh could show the world just what he can do, while Love would want to prove that he can elevate his game even as a third option better than Bosh ever did in the same role.
They battle for seeding and home court advantage, and they meet these teams the most during the regular season.
PG Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors) vs. PG Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets)
The newest All-Star against the former All-Star. It wasn’t long ago when Williams was considered as one of the best point guards in the league. While Lowry isn’t exactly owning that distinction now, he’s certainly made a strong case for himself over the past couple of seasons with Toronto. Both players could be a pleasure to watch head to head, but their teams’ storylines are just as exciting to follow as well. While the Nets were bankrolled into building a strong team, the Raptors built their team through the draft and underrated trades. They figured in an epic seven-game series last season, and the Raptors were a Paul Pierce block away from the second round of the playoffs. We hope for more of those in years to come.
SG/SF Paul George (Indiana Pacers) vs. SG/SF Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Before his injury, George was considered as one of the best players in the league, having led the Indiana Pacers to push the two-time champs Miami Heat to their limit during their playoff encounters. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, is surprisingly adapting to the NBA pretty fast. The young Bucks are currently 6th on the playoff picture in the East, while the Pacers are in a tight race with at least four other teams battling for the last two playoff spots. Even if George isn’t able to come back this year, these two teams could be on a collision course over the next few years as fellow playoff contenders. The exciting dunks and the impressive defensive skills of both players will be fun to watch individually.
PG Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers) vs. PG Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Both freaks of nature, both wildly competitive, and both play inside-out. Westbrook may be an MVP contender with his string of triple-double performances, but if they get to meet in the playoffs, Lillard won’t back down.
Which players do you think would make great rivals as well? Share your thoughts!