Ranking the NBA's Top 10 Rivalry Games to Watch This Season

Ehran KhanContributor IIIOctober 30, 2013

Ranking the NBA's Top 10 Rivalry Games to Watch This Season

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    LeBron James and Paul Pierce already have history. Now it will carry over to Pierce's new franchise.
    LeBron James and Paul Pierce already have history. Now it will carry over to Pierce's new franchise.

    Rivalry talk has been in the air of late among NBA players.

    LeBron James said that there are no rivalries among Eastern Conference contenders. Yet, when asked about the Chicago Bulls specifically, he acknowledged that the two teams plain don't like each other.

    Meanwhile, Derrick Rose brushed off the Indiana Pacers as a rival, claiming the Miami Heat as Chicago's biggest foe.

    George Hill was quick to take exception to Rose's remarks.

    And around and around we go.

    Despite what James says, there are rivalries in the NBA, at least from the fans' perspective, and they will make for some very intriguing battles throughout the season.

    What criteria establishes a particular matchup as a must-see rivalry game? There are a couple indicators to check off.

    There needs to be some recent bad blood between opposing players. Quotes like the ones linked to above satisfy that requirement.

    Teams that have a recent playoff history get a bonus, as true rivalries are born and bred in the postseason, when teams get intimate with each other over a two-week stretch in the most intense environment the sport has to offer.

    Lastly, for the game to be a truly must-see event, it must be broadcast nationally to attract the maximum number of eyeballs (apologies to the budding rivalry between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies; there are no nationally televised games between the two squads this year).

    Those are the games we're counting down here. These are the NBA's top 10 rivalry games to watch this season.

10. Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors

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    When: Dec. 25, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: This is a late-night Christmas present for NBA fans, as the West Coast's newest rivals square off in the Bay Area as the fifth and final Christmas Day game.

    The Clippers and the Warriors played four hard-fought, very entertaining games last season. The playoff history isn't there, but the two sides could easily square off this postseason, as both project to be among the West's elite.

    As for bad blood, All-NBA Bench Celebrator Kent Bazemore injected some into the affair by going all Kent Bazemore after a badly missed Blake Griffin three-point attempt.

    Griffin and the Clippers will not have forgotten the embarrassment, and the fact that these two teams will vie for the Pacific Division crown will only raise the stakes in each game they play.

9. Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors

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    When: Feb. 20, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Where: TNT

    Why: Again, there is no playoff history yet, but there could be as soon as this April.

    The Warriors and Rockets battled for playoff positioning last year, and some controversy arose during a February contest when the Rockets dropped 140 on the visiting Warriors.

    Houston had tied the record for most three-pointers made in a game with 23, but Golden State made sure the record was not broken by intentionally fouling at the end of the game so that the Rockets couldn't attempt any more threes.

    The Rockets didn't apologize for gunning, and the Warriors didn't apologize for their late-game defensive tactics.

    Both teams come back this season with reloaded rosters. Their matchups will be among the more entertaining and high-scoring affairs in the league this season.

8. Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder

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    When: Dec. 29, 7 p.m. ET

    Where: NBA TV

    Why: The two teams met in the playoffs last year and could very well see each other in the postseason in 2014 as well.

    They're two of the younger Western contenders and will be perpetually linked because of the James Harden trade.

    There's another wrinkle this season though. In Game 2 of their playoff series this past April, Russell Westbrook injured his knee while calling for time after Patrick Beverley played through the whistle and aggressively went for a steal.

    Westbrook is still not back after recently undergoing a second procedure on his knee to clean up some loose stitches. 

    You know Westbrook will be looking for revenge against Beverley and the Rockets when he takes the court against them this season.

7. Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers

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    When: Feb. 19, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: This one is all about Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers to join the Rockets this offseason.

    Howard's first game back in L.A. doesn't come until after the All-Star break, so Lakers fans will have to save their boos until the middle of February.

    By that time Kobe Bryant should be back from injury, and he will want to stick it to Howard for bolting L.A. and for all the rough times they endured a year ago.

6. Chicago Bulls at Indiana Pacers

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    When: Nov. 6, 7 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: You've already seen the relevant quotes, so you know the Pacers will want to prove to Derrick Rose that they're more than worthy of being rivals with Chicago.

    These two teams don't have recent playoff history, but they are the two Eastern squads who are best equipped to challenge the Miami Heat for the conference title. Think of this like a contender bout in boxing to determine who gets to face the champ.

    Indiana and Chicago will be fighting for playoff positioning all season long, as the team who captures the division will earn a higher seed come the postseason.

5. New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets

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    When: Dec. 5, 7 p.m. ET

    Where: TNT

    Why: It's the Battle of the Boroughs, Round 2.

    The Knicks got the better of the Nets last season, finishing with a better record and going deeper in the playoffs. The Nets had the superior offseason, though, and head into 2014 as clear-cut contenders with the Knicks projected to be a notch below.

    Jason Kidd's presence adds another layer of intrigue to the Big Apple rivalry. Kidd played for the Knicks a season ago. This year he'll be coaching against them from the Nets' bench.

4. Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers

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    When: Jan. 10, 10:30 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: Since Chris Paul has joined the Clippers, this long-dormant city clash has been heating up. 

    With the Clippers finally enjoying the top spot in L.A., they're pushing the envelope even further by covering up the Lakers' banners during their home games.

    There are also several players on either side who are linked to both teams. Current Clippers Matt Barnes and Antawn Jamison played in the purple and gold in their last NBA stops, while current Lakers Chris Kaman and Nick Young were Clippers recently.

    And of course, there's always potential for explosion whenever Pau Gasol's fingers get anywhere near Chris Paul's head.

    We got a glimpse of the rivalry on opening night, as a spunky Lakers squad surprised the favored Clippers.

    It served to add fuel to the fire for when the Clippers are designated as the home team—when all those gaudy reminders of Lakers glory will be temporarily extinguished.

3. Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls

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    When: Dec. 5, 9:30 p.m. ET

    Where: TNT

    Why: In another rematch of an opening-night contest, the Heat will travel to Chicago to take on the Bulls in early December.

    Chicago will be intent on bouncing back from the drubbing Miami gave them in the season's opening salvo.

    The Bulls are widely considered to be Miami's chief competitor in the East, topping the conference in Derrick Rose's last two healthy regular seasons.

    Rose is also the only reason LeBron James isn't the five-time reigning league MVP. 

    The Heat have gotten the better of the Bulls head to head in two of the last three postseasons, winning eight of the 10 high-stakes clashes.

2. Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat

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    When: Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: No team has come closer to knocking off the Heat during their recent runs through the Eastern Conference playoffs than the Indiana Pacers.

    Indy held a two-games-to-one advantage in 2012 before losing the last three in the Eastern semis. They took the next step and faced the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013, going the distance before falling in seven games.

    The Pacers have no fear when it come to facing LeBron and Co. They'll be hungry for another shot at Miami in the postseason and will look to make a statement when they visit South Beach a week before Christmas.

1. Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets

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    When: Nov. 1, 8 p.m. ET

    Where: ESPN

    Why: The bad blood between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat will carry over to this rivalry after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to Brooklyn this summer.

    The sniping has already begun, as LeBron questioned the way Pierce and Garnett treated Ray Allen after he left Boston in light of their own departure, with the two Nets quickly dismissing James' thoughts on the subject.

    James has quite a history against Pierce and Garnett in the postseason. He's faced the pair in 25 playoff games since 2008. 

    He's also got preexisting beef with another new Net, Jason Terry, which goes back to the 2011 Finals. James took out some of his anger on Terry with this ferocious slam over the diminutive guard last season.

    In addition to all that, you've got the former Celtic drama involving Allen and his old Big Three companions, and Garnett and Pierce's recent playoff history with the rest of James' teammates as well.

    This matchup will be the NBA's ultimate must-see rivalry in 2014, and we get our first taste of it later this week.