Basketball is a game of rivalries, be it between top players or elite teams. Fans have already experienced Larry Bird and Magic Johnson taking their college rivalry onto the professional level, as well as the well-publicized feud between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas.
Whether they are created by fans or the press, one thing is certain: Rivalries put fans in the seats and keep the game interesting.
LeBron James has a giant target on his back now that he has won a championship ring, so many teams will be looking to knock him and the Miami Heat off of their throne. The same can be said for the Los Angeles Lakers, whose epic starting five are now surely in the crosshairs of every team in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Needless to say, 2012-13 is going to be insane from start to finish, and certain matchups are only going to throw more fuel onto the fire.
This rivalry has been slowly growing for the past few years, as the Thunder have gone from being young and inexperienced to the young guns of the West.
Last season, it appeared to reach its boiling point as the Thunder finished ahead of the Lakers in the standings and then subsequently beat them in the conference semifinals before losing to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. However, the Oklahoma City-Los Angeles rivalry is only just beginning.
On L.A.'s end, GM Mitch Kupchak made sure that the team would be more than just the Kobe Bryant Show going into the new season. He first brought in a true point guard in Steve Nash, easily one of the best passers in NBA history and a fine scorer as well.
Then, he brought out the big guns in trading for All-Star center Dwight Howard and only really losing Andrew Bynum in the process. Long story short: The Lakers are ready to play and make a statement.
Oklahoma City's motivations, on the other hand, are a little bit different.
After years of improvement and finally coming together as a team, they made it to the NBA Finals only to win the first game and then lose four straight to Miami's star-studded roster.
As a hungry team, the Thunder will be more focused than ever and maybe playing a bit angry as well. They will stop at nothing to get back to the final stage and walk away victorious.
But they might just have to pass the new-look Lakers to do so.
The Lakers and Clippers have battled for city pride for decades, and now the Knicks will have to do the same with the Nets, who moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn over the summer. Both teams are incredibly talented, and the fact that they open the season against each other only adds to the rivalry that will exist.
All players aside, however, this rivalry is going to be a test for all New Yorkers, especially those who have spent their lives rooting for the Knicks.
Suppose that the Knicks continue their underachieving ways and don't make any progress despite having both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire on the team? Do fans stick with the squad they've supported for life, or do they change allegiances and root for the team that plays across the bridge?
Either way, both teams have a lot on the line this season. One is looking to regain former glory, while the other is looking to establish itself as the new top dog in town. Naturally, the fans are going to ensure that both New York and Brooklyn get a lot of attention from start to finish.
Here we have two players who are always locks to have great games each time they step out on the floor. First, there is James, a phenomenal athlete who is dangerous in every way possible—offensively and defensively—and also has three MVP trophies.
Then there is Durant, the ever-improving player and team leader who just happens to have led the NBA in scoring the past three seasons.
Adding to this rivalry is the fact that James and Durant played each other in last year's NBA Finals with James walking away victorious. Durant was surely bummed about losing, and to add insult to injury, he and James had to play together on Team USA in the Olympics just a few weeks later. There, they won a gold medal.
Now that they are back on separate teams, look for Durant to play with a bit of an extra motivation this season. He came so close to winning a ring last year, and he's not going to stop until he has one.
Of course, when his Oklahoma City Thunder play James' Miami Heat on December 25 and February 14, chances are that he will do all he can to put the team on his back and bring home victories, thus making James look like the lesser player.
The Knicks and the Heat are always going to be rivals, but the fact that the rivalry now features LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony makes it all the more intense.
These two teams play in the same conference and are constantly battling for a good playoff position. Throw in James' infamous "decision" in which he spurned an offer from New York to play in Miami, and it's perfectly understandable as to why Knicks fans look forward to him coming to play their team.
More importantly, now that James has his championship ring, the Knicks should be all the more motivated to win one of their own.
In fact, shortly after last season's NBA Finals, Anthony came forward and implied that he would soon join James among the championship elite. Naturally, Knicks fans like myself went into a frenzy, one only furthered by an offseason that saw the team acquire the likes of Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
That all being said, Knicks vs. Heat is going to be a deeper rivalry in 2012-13. With both James and Anthony playing for a shot at championship glory, it's sure to be an absolute dogfight on the court.
The Miami Heat may pride themselves on their Big Three, but the Los Angeles Lakers are about to top that with what I like to call their "Superior Six." As of now, L.A.'s starting five is as follows: Steve Nash at point guard, Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, Metta World Peace at small forward, Pau Gasol at power forward and Dwight Howard at center. Their sixth man is none other than reliable scorer and 2004 Sixth Man of the Year Antawn Jamison.
Even though Miami has a great amount of talent, it is still a bit lacking at center and at the point, though Mario Chalmers is certainly good in his own right. The Heat play the Lakers twice this season, both times on national television. Each fanbase will pump some adrenaline into each game, as both stacked teams will surely make each contest one for the ages.
More importantly, this could very well be a potential NBA Finals matchup.
Who would win if that were to happen?