Top 5 Rivalry Candidates for Portland Trail Blazers in 2013

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

Top 5 Rivalry Candidates for Portland Trail Blazers in 2013

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    NBA rivalries make an 82-game schedule worth watching even when casual followers begin to turn away. As a Portland Trail Blazers fan, who can you point to as your team’s biggest rival?

    A rivalry in any sport should bring passion and excitement to both sides, and, quite frankly, there aren't many teams these days that get pumped up when the Trail Blazers come to town.

    2012 proved to be nothing but a bust for Portland, and as a result, there weren’t nearly enough bad-blooded competitions to keep fans interested.

    The Trail Blazers have lacked a true rival for quite some time now, but heading into the 2012-13 season, there are a handful of teams that could spark the interest of fans in Rip City.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers are set to begin their season on Oct. 31 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and Rip City couldn’t be more ready.

    Whenever the Lakers come to town, a special vibe hits the cool Portland air. The cheers get a little louder, the boos get a little harsher and the Beat L.A. gear comes out in full swing.

    The question is, do Lakers fans get riled up when they hear the Blazers are coming to the Staples Center?

    At this point, the answer is probably a resounding "No." But with a hard-fought contest early in the season, the old rivalry could be rejuvenated with a new youth-versus-experience twist.

    Before Portland escaped the infamous "Jail Blazers" era, the Blazers and the Lakers competed closely dating back to the early '90s. However, a historic collapse by the Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals led these teams to finally move in separate directions.

    Kobe Bryant’s struggles at the Rose Garden are well-documented (according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan), and if the Blazers can become relevant again this season, there’s a chance that the star-studded team from L.A. just might notice.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Just a few seasons ago, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder were primed to enter into one of the league’s most exciting new rivalries. Both teams were linked by the draft selections of Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, and each team was set to groom its own Big Three organically through the draft.

    Today, these two teams couldn’t be further apart, but that doesn’t mean that the potential for bad blood isn’t still there.

    In 2012, the Blazers played two of their most exciting games against the Thunder. Both were early in the season, and while a tight victory on the road gave Rip City confidence, a tough overtime loss at home wiped away all the momentum from Portland's 7-2 start.

    If Damian Lillard ends up being the player fans hope he can be, this division rivalry could be renewed. The battles between Lillard and Russell Westbrook could be something for fans all across the Association to covet.

    Fans in Portland won’t soon forget how they could have had Durant, and if these two teams ever meet in a playoff series, the energy level will be through the roof at the Rose Garden.

Utah Jazz

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    The bad blood between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz is something most casual fans can’t appreciate, as it’s had much more to do with moves made by management than moves made on the court.

    When Paul Millsap was a restricted free agent back in 2009, Blazers management went after him with a “toxic” front-loaded offer to scare the Jazz away from committing (according to ESPN's Chris Broussard). Utah would go on to match the offer, but two years later the Blazers were at it again, this time with Wesley Matthews.

    Matthews ultimately landed in Portland after the Jazz opted to let him go, and the shooting guard has gone on to have two 30-plus point games against his former team.

    The front-office drama is one way to get a rivalry started, but for the sake of the game, it’s the play on the court that spawns a true rivalry.

    Matthews has played well against his former team, and if he can get the rest of his crew to join suit, these two teams fighting for a playoff spot should give the fans an entertaining, physical brand of basketball.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Unlike the Utah Jazz, any semblance of a rivalry with the Dallas Mavericks stems from what has taken place on the court, not in the front office.

    In the past 15 regular-season meetings between these two teams, three have gone into at least one overtime, all have been decided by an average of just five points and the Mavs lead the series by just a single victory.

    The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was the first round in 2011, when the Blazers made one of the most historic and dramatic comebacks in NBA postseason history.

    The Mavericks have encountered more success than the Blazers as of late, but don’t forget that both teams now feature newly built rosters with a familiar, All-Star power forward leading the way.

    New Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knows how the Mavs use Dirk Nowitzki, as his most recent job was as an assistant with Dallas. Having an insider is always a plus, and the Blazers will utilize that advantage in all matchups moving forward.

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    If the Trail Blazers are set up for a rivalry with any team in the NBA, it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Stuck together in a brutal Northwest division, the two teams have become intertwined by Minnesota’s offseason pursuit of both Brandon Roy and Nicolas Batum. Roy landed with the team after coming out of retirement, while the Blazers ultimately matched the big-time offer that the Wolves sent Batum’s way.

    Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, backup point guard Luke Ridnour and assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Terry Porter all have ties to the state of Oregon.

    Minnesota will look relatively the same in 2013—unless, of course, Roy slows them down to a crawl the way he did in Portland—but the Blazers will look to play a much faster, more Minnesota-like style under new head coach Terry Stotts.

    Neither of these teams are a lock for the playoffs, but both have a fighting chance to sneak in as a late seed.

    The bad blood in this relationship is there, and with these two up-and-coming squads vying for a spot in the postseason, the stage for a great rivalry has already been set.