Best Rivalries in the NBA This Season

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2013

Best Rivalries in the NBA This Season

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    It has been a surprisingly good season for rivalries in the NBA.

    With some recently downtrodden franchises making big waves, there are old rivalries being renewed on a weekly basis in the league.

    Parity in the league seems to be growing, as teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have fallen while the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are a couple of major surprises.

    Divisional rivalries are being renewed, especially in the stacked Atlantic and LA-heavy Pacific. In the Atlantic particularly, there have already been numerous fights and suspensions coming out of divisional games.

    Attitudes are at fever pitch as older teams are fighting to stay relevant against their proposed successors. After a whirlwind of a 2011-12 season, due to the lockout, this season is allowing for the dog days of mid-season when tempers flare and frustrations air.

    All of this is making for some fantastic theatre. So, where should you be looking to see some real heated and hated contests this winter?

New York Knicks and Boston Celtics

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    Season Series: BOS 1-0
    Next Game: Jan. 24 @ Celtics

    The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks recently rekindled one of the great rivalries in the NBA.

    Beyond the obvious Boston-New York rivalry that stretches across sports, these two teams are on the verge of becoming fierce Atlantic Division rivals. The division has been owned by the Boston Celtics over the past five seasons, but the Knicks currently have a stranglehold on it.

    New York hasn't seen a divisional title since 1994 but holds a five-game lead over the third-place Celtics.

    None of that mattered on Jan. 7, when the Celtics invaded Madison Square Garden fighting to turn their season around, and left with a three-game winning streak. The game finished in a 102-96 win for the visiting team, but a lot more was played than just a game.

    This was an event that featured four technical fouls, including one each for Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony.

    The two battled each other all night and eventually led to an altercation that didn't finish on the court. After the game, Anthony was spotted waiting near the Celtics' bus, hoping to have a word with Garnett. In the aftermath of these events, Anthony was suspended for one game, while Garnett saw no blow-back.

    With the Knicks 23-10 entering this game, they had a real chance to hammer a nail into the Celtics' coffin. They were unable to assert any dominance and allowed the Celtics to hang around in the division confidence-wise.

    The Jan. 24 matchup back in Boston will be on national television with TNT, and is sure to be one hell of a show.

Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics

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    Season Series: BKN 2-1
    Next Game: April 10 @ Boston

    Continuing on with a series of new Atlantic Division rivalries, we have the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics.

    Like the Celtics and New York Knicks rivalry, this one is renewed this season after a few years of dormancy. Likewise as well, it was renewed with an altercation between two players. 

    The Nov. 28 game that saw Rajon Rondo, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace all ejected, kickstarted a rivalry that already had divisional implications.

    Humphries fouled a mid-air Kevin Garnett with a little extra force and sent the big guy sprawling to the ground. Rondo took exception to the foul and wound up driving Humphries off the court, igniting a shoving match between the two teams. 

    Humphries did not help calm things when he tweeted out a photo of the damage Rondo caused. Something I'm sure the Celtics were not pleased about. Boston then came back to embarrass the Nets 93-76 on their home court on Christmas Day. 

    This series already features some intriguing matchups between two of the league's top point guards in Deron Williams and Rondo. There is also long-time Boston rival, and former Celtic, Joe Johnson in the fold for Brooklyn.

    By virtue of winning the first two games of this season's series, the Nets still hold a two-game lead over Boston for second place in the Atlantic and the six-seed in the conference. Their final game on April 10 could wind up having serious playoff implications.

New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets

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    Season Series: NYK 2-1
    Next Game: Jan. 21 @ Knicks 

    The final Atlantic Division rivalry features two teams from the same neck of the woods. When the Nets moved to Brooklyn to start the 2012-13 season, they became more than de facto rivals of the New York Knicks. 

    The schedule-makers really wanted us to sink our teeth into this series, as they played three of four games before Dec. 20. Those games were not short on drama.

    In the first-ever matchup between Brooklyn and New York, the game went to overtime where the Nets pulled away for the win at the new Barclays Center.

    The Knicks followed that one up with some theatrics of their own. On the road again in early December, Jason Kidd made an appearance his old franchise wouldn't soon forget. He hit a game-winning trey with just 24 seconds remaining, to cap off a brilliant 45-point outburst from Carmelo Anthony.

    The Knicks then were finally able to establish some dominance in a 100-86 win back home at Madison Square Garden. 

    With these two teams now just a mere six miles apart, the rivalry is here to stay. If the Nets are able to keep pace with New York, down just three games now, then this rivalry will heat up even more. 

Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers

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    Season Series: LAC 2-0
    Next Game: Feb. 14 @ Lakers

    It is tough to say this rivalry is renewed, considering it never really was a rivalry before. Despite sharing a stadium and a city, the Los Angeles Lakers have always stomped on the Clippers.

    What started a season ago has reached a peak, however, and the Clippers have taken over the top spot in LA. The Clippers have transformed into one of the best teams in the league, via smart use of free agency and the NBA draft. Free agents like Chris Paul and Matt Barnes have helped push the Clippers over the top of the mainstay Lakers in Los Angeles. 

    The Staples Center has now become a house of war. When the little brother takes out his elder in one-on-one, this is the result. The Clippers have taken the first two games of the season series and built up a 12.5-game lead over them in the Pacific Division.

    The Lakers have floundered. Their last loss to the Clippers came amidst a five-game losing streak since the new year began. Frustrations are mounting in their locker room, and nothing sets off those frustrations of failure quite like seeing a relative succeed.

    That being said, the Lakers do have time to turn things around. Two games against those same Clippers later in the season will be doubly important as they dig themselves out of this hole. 

Boston Celtics and Miami Heat

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    Season Series: MIA 1-0
    Next Game: Jan. 27 @ Celtics

    The NBA went the obvious route in kicking off the season with a game featuring one of the hottest rivalries currently going. The Boston Celtics were forced to play in Miami on the same night their biggest rival, LeBron James and the Miami Heat received their 2011-12 championship rings. 

    Though the rivalry seems to have taken a hit with the Celtics struggling to maintain a .500 record and the Heat tussling with the New York Knicks atop the Eastern Conference, I assure you it is just as heated as ever. These two teams have been through a lot over the past couple of seasons, with Miami eliminating Boston each year. 

    The Celtics took the Heat to seven games before succumbing in Miami and allowing James to advance and win his first title. That series featured its fair share of trash-talking and emotion. The following offseason had Ray Allen transplanting himself from Boston to Miami, where he joinined forces with the Heat.

    That free-agency move alone stoked the flames of this rivalry. As long as matchups like Paul Pierce-LeBron James and Kevin Garnett-Chris Bosh, as well as newly minted Avery Bradley-Dwyane Wade, are in play, this rivalry isn't going anywhere.

    The first three games of the series are on national television, with the final game scheduled for NBA TV. Clearly, the league and viewers feel the same.

Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Season Series: MIA 1-0
    Next Game: Feb. 14 @ Thunder

    This may be more of a rivalry between the game's two best players, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, than their teams, but it still fits.

    The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City met in the 2012 NBA finals and sit atop their respective conferences in the middle of the 2012-13 season. Unfortunately, we as fans only get two regular-season contests between these teams, with Miami taking Game 1 on Christmas Day. 

    The Thunder are actually the young upstarts in this rivalry, who are trying to steal dominance from the Heat. Miami nearly swept Oklahoma City out of the finals last season, winning in five games. James averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the series and completely over-shadowed Durant. 

    These teams have the horses to keep this rivalry going for an extended period of time, should the Heat remain intact. If that is the case, the rest of the country better get used to their title droughts. 

Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks

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    Season Series: CHI 3-0
    Next Game: April 11 @ Bulls

    The New York Knicks have been one of the league's more dominant teams so far. The Chicago Bulls have simply not noticed. 

    The Bulls seem capable of not only slowing the Knicks offense with stingy defense, but also getting into the heads of New York's stars. Joakim Noah's head games with the Knicks caused them to lose Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and head coach Mike Woodson for the end of their Dec. 21 battle. 

    This could be a developing flaw in the Knicks' success, as the Boston Celtics utilized the same strategy to throw Anthony off his game in a recent win over New York. If you are a team that loses your composure while frustrated, the Bulls are not the team you want to be seeing in a playoff series.

    Their defense is more than capable of frustrating the best of offenses, and Luol Deng is one of a select few players with the size and skill to legitimately defend Anthony. 

Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs

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    Season Series: Even 1-1
    Next Game: Jan. 16 @ Spurs

    One of the more underrated rivalries in the NBA this season comes out of the Southwest Division.

    The San Antonio Spurs have long been the class of the Western Conference, but of late, a divisional rival has come on strong and is making a case for dominance in the Southwest. The Memphis Grizzlies are just 1.5 games behind the Spurs for first place in the division and the No. 3 seed in the West.

    The Grizzlies made noise advancing past the Spurs in the first round of the postseason two years ago, but fell in the opening round of 2012, ruining a chance for a rematch.

    In their first game of 2012-13, Manu Ginobili hit a three to send it to overtime before the Spurs pulled away with a 99-95 victory.

    This was followed by another overtime matchup in January. Tony Parker hit the three this time to force the extra period. Unfortunately for San Antonio, Memphis took control in overtime, winning 101-98.

    They play two games against one another in a six-day span that should really throw some kindling on this low-burning rivalry.