Los Angeles Lakers' Top 10 Rivals of All Time
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The Los Angeles Lakers didn't become the most storied franchise in all of basketball without making a few rivals along the way.
In their 65-year history, the LA Lakers have had their share of heated competition against some of the most noteworthy teams in the NBA. From their "Hallway Series" against the Clippers to their classic rivalry with the Celtics, the Lakers have always found a way to spark animosity with some of the NBA's best.
Among the 29 franchises that have played against the Lakers, 10 of them stand out as the toughest, most competitive and most engrossing rivalries.
10. Los Angeles Clippers
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Granted, this rivalry was one-sided even before the Clippers moved to LA in the 1980s. But last year, things finally started to heat up between the two teams after a nixed deal that was supposed to send Chris Paul to the Lakers backfired and Paul was ultimately sent to their crosstown rival.
The "Hallway Series," as it has come to be known, is now among the most appealing in the NBA.
For the first time in a long time, the Lakers and Clippers actually fought hard for the top spot in the Pacific Division with he Lakers ultimately prevailing by a one-game margin.
Last season, fans were also treated to gritty trash talking and poster-worthy dunks as the "Hallway Series" finally started to intensify. With both teams adding weight to their already-established squads this past summer, the rivalry has the potential to become even more exciting than it was this past season.
Total LAL victories: 143
Total LAC victories: 49
9. Chicago Bulls
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Although the teams have only met once in the finals, no one can deny the high level of attention these two franchises demanded whenever they faced each other in the 1980s and early 1990s. In all honesty, the gaudy playing styles of these two teams changed the landscape of the game and evolved it into what we mostly see today.
It was a treat for all basketball fans when the Lakers and Bulls finally met in the NBA Finals in 1991. It started out as a battle of two of the brightest stars in NBA history and it ended up being a passing-of-the-torch scenario as Magic Johnson ultimately conceded his reign as the NBA's biggest name.
It was a series full of memorable plays, career-defining performances and league-changing results.
Although there has only been one Finals meeting so far, the current teams have all the potential they could possibly need to compete for a ring soon enough. After all, both teams have been on championship hunts for the past few seasons.
Total LAL victories: 101
Total CHI victories: 67
8. Houston Rockets
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This pick might surprise a few fans, but this is a rivalry that goes back quite a while.
While most fans will likely point to the seven-game series of 2009 as the most intriguing matchup of the two teams, the fact of the matter is that this rivalry dates back to the Magic Johnson days.
Most people forget this, but from 1980 to 1989, the only other Western Conference team not named the Lakers to make it to the NBA Finals was Houston.
In the 1980s, the teams faced each other in the playoffs twice, with Houston prevailing in both meetings to ultimately make it to the NBA Finals. They never won a ring during that span, however.
The Lakers would go on to face them again in 1990 and 1991 to finally even the rivalry, although the Lakers were also unable to win another title under Magic.
Over the years, the franchises would go on to meet again and again. As noted earlier, they faced each other in the second round of the 2009 playoffs in what turned out to be one of the most competitive series the Lakers would see in that title run.
Despite their competitive history, the Lakers still have the edge over the Rockets as they've managed to win more regular season games, playoff games and championships. Nevertheless, it has definitely been a fun rivalry to watch.
Total LAL victories: 150
Total HOU victories: 79
7. Miami Heat
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For more reasons than one, the Miami Heat have had a surprising connection to the Lakers in recent years.
The rivalry officially had its inception in 2004 when the Lakers traded Shaquille O'Neal to Miami in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant.
After that, the Lakers and Heat would go on to face one another on Christmas day every year for three straight seasons as the NBA banked on the Kobe-Shaq feud. Although it took the Lakers a while to become a championship contender, that never prevented the rivalry from becoming as heated as it was (no pun intended).
Miami ultimately won a championship before LA in 2006.
Although the rivalry lost a bit of its glamour after Shaq left Miami, it was revived once more after the addition of LeBron James in the summer of 2010.
Since "The Decision," the rivalry has evolved into a battle of super teams. With LeBron's "Big Three" and Kobe's "Core Four," the Lakers-Heat rivalry has grown into a potential NBA Finals matchup.
These two teams have combined for six NBA Finals appearances since 2006, but they have yet to meet one another in the playoffs. This year could easily change all of that.
Total LAL victories: 30
Total MIA victories: 18
6. Phoenix Suns
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"I don't like them," Kobe said about the Suns after torching them for 48 points in a game last season.
For a while, this was one one-sided rivalry as Steve Nash's Suns knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs for two straight years in the first round. Despite the end results, no fan can deny the high level of excitement the two teams brought to the floor whenever they met.
Each series was full of dunks, game-winners, comebacks, career-highs and even tough physical action.
The teams met each other three out of five times in the playoffs with Nash's Suns taking the first two series from the Lakers. Los Angeles finally pulled through in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Sparked by outstanding performances from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers finally bested their division rivals, winning it 4-2 to advance to the Finals once more.
The rivalry unofficially came to an end on July 4, 2012 when Steve Nash was traded to his bitter rival team.
Total LAL victories: 168
Total PHX victories: 115
5. Sacramento Kings
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It was the fiercest and most exciting rivalry to watch in the early 2000s.
Both franchises battled for the top spot of the Pacific Division every year seemingly. But the true highlight of the rivalry was the Western Conference Finals series in 2002.
The cross-state rivalry proved to be one of the most memorable series in recent NBA history. Just like the Suns-Lakers rivalry, this series had it all: game-winners, dunks, overtime and career-defining games.
The first five games included evenly matched games and a miraculous game-winner from the Lakers' Robert Horry. Despite all of that, Sacramento still managed to take a comfortable 3-2 lead after winning game five at home. LA would counter with an exciting Game 6 to tie the series at three games apiece. Game 7 would be played in Sacramento and would turn into an overtime classic. The Shaq-led Lakers prevailed in the extra period to win the grueling match and advance to the Finals.
The series ended in a classic Hollywood-storyline fashion. Full of drama and excitement, the LA Lakers came out on top, but not before turning this into one of the greatest and most competitive rivalries in Lakers' history.
Total LAL victories: 287
Total SAC victories: 153
4. Detroit Pistons
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Younger fans will most likely point to the shellacking the Pistons gave to the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals as the highlight of the rivalry. Older and more knowledgeable fans know different, however.
After playing Boston in three straight Finals, the Lakers met a fierce new opposition in Detroit toward the end of the 1980s. Led by the relentless Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, the Pistons took LA to seven games in 1988 before falling to the Lakers in the decisive final game.
The Pistons and Lakers met once more the following year, but this time, it was Detroit who earned the last laugh as the "Bad Boys" of the NBA swept the Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals. That series proved to be the last for the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as he announced retirement the following year.
Nearly two decades later, both franchises would meet in the Finals once more. In what was supposed to be an easy championship run for LA, the underdog Pistons shocked the world as they defeated the talent-filled Lakers in just five games.
Although the rivalry was short-lived, the duels between the two franchises were among the most talked about in NBA history.
Total LAL victories: 223
Total DET victories: 149
3. Philadelphia 76ers
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Before the Lakers continued their rivalry with Boston in the 1980s, they had to go through Philadelphia first. A lot of people seem to forget, but the Lakers and Sixers met each other in the NBA Finals three times in four years from 1980 through 1983.
Those encounters included some of the most legendary performances and noteworthy plays that the Finals would ever see. From Magic's memorable 42-point night in 1980, to Julius Erving's famous baseline layup, these NBA Finals were filled with some of the most distinguished performances in NBA history.
LA won the first two meetings with relative ease, but Philly ultimately prevailed in their third encounter in 1983.
After those duels, the two teams met once again in 2001 as Shaq's Lakers defeated Allen Iverson's 76ers decisively in five games. As most Laker fans remember, those 76ers were the only team to take a game from LA in the 2001 playoffs. LA finished the season with a nearly perfect 15-1 playoff run and its second straight title.
Total LAL victories: 158
Total PHI victories: 143
2. San Antonio Spurs
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The Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs were the most dominant teams in all of basketball for a span of twelve years. After all, since 1999, 11 out of those 12 NBA Finals included either the Lakers or the Spurs.
Each time they faced each other in the playoffs, the winner ultimately advanced to the NBA finals and usually won it. Their dominance was so high that, quite frankly, that era should easily be defined by the success of the two franchises.
But winning games and titles were not the ultimate factors that elevated this rivalry to such heights. In that 12-year span, the two teams had a number of competitive and memorable matches. From the Fisher game-winner with 0.4 seconds left, to the whooping the Spurs gave the Lakers in 2003 that finally ended their championship run, these two teams have made all of their encounters quite entertaining.
What makes this rivalry a little different is that there is no clear hatred between the two teams. In actuality, there exists a kind of mutual respect for one another. Kobe has publicly called Duncan the best power forward of all time, while Greg Popovich continually praises Bryant's work ethic and success. It's very admirable seeing this kind of appreciation in a rivalry as big as this.
Although the rivalry has quieted down in recent years, the possibility of seeing these two in the playoffs again is always high and the level of interest is even higher.
Overall LAL victories: 108
Overall SAS victories: 90
1. Boston Celtics
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Was there ever any doubt?
Unlike some of the previous rivalries, this one actually spans over decades and eras.
From the dominance of Russell's Celtics in the 1960s to the epic competition of Bird and Magic in the 1980s and ultimately making its way to the era of Kobe Bryant in the 2000s, this rivalry has seen it all.
The Celtics and Lakers have met each other in the NBA Finals a grand total of 12 times. Although Boston has won nine of those meetings, Los Angeles is the the team that has enjoyed recent success against its Eastern Conference counterpart.
After routinely beating Jerry West's Lakers in the 1960s and handing Magic a loss in 1984, the Celtics finally lost a series to the Lakers after Magic Johnson's team trumped the Celtics in a six-game series in 1985. LA would go on to beat its bitter rival for the second straight time in 1987 in a series that included Magic's famous hook shot down the paint.
The rivalry was once again renewed in 2008 after Kobe's Lakers faced the "Boston Three Party" only to lose in six games. Los Angeles ultimately got its revenge two years later as the Lakers beat their bitter rival in an epic seven-game series in the 2010 Finals.
But make no mistake, this has not been a friendly rivalry in the slightest. The fans, the players, the coaches, and even the owners show clear animosity toward the other franchise. In all honesty, that blunt and bitter hatred is what makes this the best rivalry in the NBA.
As it currently stands, Boston has an advantage over LA in total rings, regular season wins, playoff wins, and series victories.
But LA has as good of a shot as ever to finally tie Boston with 17 titles in the upcoming years. The fact that LA still has some catching up to do is what adds to the competitiveness of this epic and storied rivalry. Here's hoping to a yet another Boston-LA series in the NBA Finals soon enough.
Total LAL victories: 154
Total BOS victories: 196