Rivalries are a big part of the NBA because certain ones have made history and helped establish the league's reputation.
We know the rich history between teams like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, and the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, and it is this knowledge that indicates just how powerful, and necessary rivalries are in this league.
Not all rivalries have been documented as well as the aforementioned, but each NBA team shares a a piece of history with another, giving grounds for a rivalry talk. Most of the history will stem from playoff bouts because after all, this is where rivalries are truly born.
On the ensuing slides, we will take a look at the greatest rivalry for each NBA franchise.
The Atlanta Hawks are a tough team to assign a rivalry to, partly because since their time began in Atlanta, they have not won an NBA title nor been a part of anything too volatile.
However, this is not to say that Atlanta is irrelevant or not worth talking about. As currently constructed, they are a good team, and their rival is rapidly becoming the Orlando Magic.
Well, for starters, this past postseason, the fifth-seeded Hawks upset the fourth-seeded Magic in the first round, much to the chagrin of Dwight Howard and company. And this is only the beginning.
The current structure of the Eastern Conference means that the Hawks and Magic will always be battling it out to see which can be in the top four. This is not to say the Celtics, Heat and Bulls are guaranteed the top three slots; simply, Orlando and Atlanta are two teams who could be on the outside looking in.
Additionally, this rivalry will only intensify should the Hawks ship Josh Smith to the Magic once this lockout ends. Sure, usually a team would not ship a key player to their rival, but Atlanta wants him out, and the Magic are one of the only serious suitors for the forward.
If Smith does join the Magic, though, Atlanta will look to prove they can perform just as well without him. And let's not forget that Smith's larger-than-life-ego is sure to inflate any existing tension between the two teams.
Yes, the Hawks' greatest rivals are quickly becoming, if they are not already, the Orlando Magic.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, being that the Lakers have been the Boston Celtics' greatest rivals since their first NBA Finals meeting in 1959.
Boston and Los Angeles have met 12 times in the NBA Finals, and that is the main source of this rivalry. In those 12 championship meetings, Boston is 9-3, but the Lakers have won three of the last four.
Many considered this rivalry to be dead once Magic Johnson and Larry Bird hung up their shoes for good, but the intensity has been rekindled more recently. Boston met the Lakers in the Finals in 2008 and again in 2010.
In 2008, the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games to obtain the Larry O'Brien Trophy. However, in 2010, it was Los Angeles who came out on top, defeating Boston in a grueling seven-game series.
It is easy to peg the Lakers as Boston's greatest rival. Whether it be a battle between Bird and Magic, or Pierce and Kobe, Los Angeles is always on the Celtics' radar, and don't expect that to change anytime soon.
Like the Lakers, the Celtics are an aging team looking to prove they can still compete at a high level. As a result Boston may have its eye on Los Angeles more so than usual, looking to prove that their perennial stars are better than those of the Lakers.
In all honesty, the Charlotte Bobcats have not even been an NBA franchise for a decade, making it nearly impossible for them to have a team they consider a great rival.
However, rather than leave this slide completely devoid of meaning, the Orlando Magic have been chosen, simply because they are the first, and only team the Bobcats have played in the playoffs.
In 2010, Charlotte and Orlando squared off in the first round of the playoffs. The Magic swept the young Bobcats, but it is a series the franchise will never forget, simply because it was their first playoff berth.
Charlotte's loss to the Magic will serve as a goal to improve upon for the foreseeable future, or until they make it back to the playoffs.
The Knicks have been the greatest rival of the Chicago Bulls dating back to Michael Jordan's days in the NBA.
It all began in 1989, when the sixth-seeded Bulls overtook the second-seeded Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Including that year, Chicago and New York met a total of six times in a span of eight years in the postseason. During that time, the Bulls were 7-1 in postseason series against the Knicks.
Despite what may seem like clear dominance by Chicago, Jordan and company took Patrick Ewing and the Knicks very seriously. All but two of those series went to six or seven games, contributing to the establishment of said rivalry.
Up until recently, Chicago's rivalry with the Knicks seemed all but dead, but with the recent emergence of the Bulls as one of the league's top teams along with New York's return to relevancy at the hands of two superstars, this one will surely begin to heat up as the teams compete for playoff seedings over the next few years.
Regardless, though, the rich history between Chicago and New York is undeniable, making the Knicks their greatest rival.
Resisting the temptation to choose the Miami Heat, for the sheer reason that they lured LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise's greatest rival is the Chicago Bulls.
This is yet another rivalry that stems back to Michael Jordan's days. The most memorable moment of this rivalry is one that may kill Cavs fans to look back upon. It came when Jordan made the game-winning basket in the fifth and final game of the first round of the playoffs back in 1989.
During the regular season of that year, the Cavs were 6-0 against Chicago, so you can imagine how devastating that series loss was to them.
Between 1988 and 1994, the two teams met four times in the postseason, with the Cavaliers losing each time. Cleveland would meet the Bulls once again in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, beating Chicago in five games, for the first time in the playoffs.
With Cleveland in rebuilding mode, and Chicago emerging as one of the league's top teams, this is a rivalry that may not be rekindled for a little while. However, prior meetings plainly indicate that the Cavs' greatest rival is the Bulls.
Without a doubt, the Dallas Mavericks greatest rivalry is with the San Antonio Spurs.
Since 2001, the teams have met five times in the postseason, out of which Dallas has won two times and San Antonio three. The two teams' most recent meeting came in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, with the seventh-seeded Spurs upsetting second-seeded Dallas. During that series, Dirk Nowitzki broke Manu Ginobli's nose, further fueling the rivalry.
Both teams are clearly from Texas, and being in the same division definitely helps ignite this rivalry. Additionally, both teams have been winning organizations for quite a few seasons now, and with Dallas winning the NBA championship this past year, look for the rivalry to intensify.
Yes, the Spurs have won four championships to the Mavericks' one, but every matchup between these two teams is a hard-fought battle. And the rich history shared by the two teams makes the Spurs an obvious choice as the Mavericks' greatest rival.
The Denver Nuggets are another team without a clear rival under their belts, but the New York Knicks are the closest they have.
Such an argument is based on a couple of occurrences over the past five years. In December of 2006, Denver and New York had an all-out brawl at the end of a Nuggets blowout. The brawl ensued after an unnecessary foul by New York's Mardy Collins.
Any fight to this degree will leave some bad blood between two organizations for quite some time. However, this rivalry renewed itself once Carmelo Anthony basically forced his way into a Knicks uniform. Denver reluctantly traded the star to New York, rekindling bad blood between the two teams.
Now, with Denver sporting former Knicks asset Danilo Gallinari and New York making former Nuggets star Anthony the face of their franchise, there will definitely be an air of competition unlike any we have seen between these two teams come next season.
And perhaps beyond.
The Detroit Pistons have met the Los Angeles Lakers three times in the NBA Finals since 1988.
Detroit fell to the Lakers in six games in 1988, swept Los Angeles in 1989 and beat them again in five games during the 2004 NBA finals. The Pistons' victory in 1989 was their first ever championship, which contributes to this rivalry substantially.
Additionally, throughout the history of this rivalry we have seen Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer all square off against each other, adding further relevance to the two teams' matchups.
Both organizations have a history of being tough, gritty teams. The number of times Detroit has faced Los Angeles in the finals makes the Lakers the clear choice as the Pistons' greatest rival.
The Golden State Warriors do not have a clear-cut greatest rival, so the role of it will be played by the Los Angeles Lakers, whom the Warriors upset during the 1987 postseason.
Sleepy Floyd of the Warriors scored 51 points in Game 4 of the series, 29 of which came in the second quarter, to help Golden State avoid a sweep. The Lakers went on to win the series, but Floyd's 29 points in the second quarter against Magic Johnson and company still stands as the NBA playoff record for most points scored in a quarter.
Additionally, both teams are located in California, and there is a possibility the teams could be swapping key players in Lamar Odom and Monta Ellis, which would further their history.
It may not seem like much of a rivalry, but the Lakers are the closest the Warriors have to a great one.
This rivalry has not been rekindled recently, but it is one that was strong at one time.
Most recently, in 1995, these two Texas based teams met in the Western Conference Finals. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets upset the top-seeded Spurs in six games. Houston went on to win its second consecutive NBA championship.
The series is especially notable because league MVP David Robinson was basically manhandled by Olajuwon night-in and night-out. Such a matchup was one for the ages, with two of the game's most dominant big men fighting for points and rebounds in the paint.
As previously mentioned, the rivalry is not all that hot right now. The teams play each other in the regular season, but have failed to meet in the playoffs since.
Regardless though, it's clear the Spurs are the Rockets greatest rivals.
Between 1993 and 2000, the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers met six times during the NBA playoffs.
During that span, each team won three series. Each was filled with great moments. One of the most notable came when Reggie Miller of the Pacers scored eight points in the final 18 seconds of regulation in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, propelling Indiana to 107-105 victory.
The Pacers and Knicks rivalry is also home to Larry Johnson's famous four-point play, in which Johnson nailed a three while being fouled by Pacers' Antonio Davis. Johnson hit the free throw to push New York to a 92-91 victory.
Postseason history between these two teams is plentiful, and these epic matchups make the Knicks an easy choice for the Pacers' greatest rivalry.
The only reason that the Lakers qualify as the Los Angeles Clippers' greatest rival is because not only are they from the same city, but they share the same arena in the Staples Center.
Blake Griffin gives hope to a Clippers organization that has become more than irrelevant by being overshadowed by America's basketball team in Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Will the Clippers ever be Los Angeles' team?
Probably not, but hopefully the young and inexperienced Clippers will eventually be able to give the playoff-savvy Lakers a run for their money in terms of competition.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are mutually great rivals.
As previously noted, the Celtics are 9-3 against the Lakers in the NBA Finals, but it is the number of matchups that really counts toward this rivalry.
Twelve finals matchups between the two are the most between any two NBA teams, and it seems that the two organizations are always at the same stages of development. When the rivalry was at its peak, the Lakers had Magic Johnson as the face of the franchise, while Boston had Larry Bird. And now we have Paul Pierce for Boston and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.
Additionally, both franchises are at the point in their development where their core is aging and they are searching for ways to remain as title contenders. The similarities are uncanny, and they make for great competition.
A game between the Lakers and Celtics never disappoints. The history is so rich between the two that the rivalry will probably never cease to exist. It doesn't hurt either that the franchises re-ignite the flame every once in awhile, more recently splitting championship victories against each other in 2008 and 2010.
Furthermore, Boston and Los Angeles rival each other as the most productive team in NBA history. Between the two, they account for 33 NBA titles, the Celtics with 17 and the Lakers, 16.
There just isn't a rivalry that gets any better than that.
The Memphis Grizzlies, formerly of Vancouver, are yet another team without a clear-cut great rival.
Memphis' playoff history is not extensive, which to be honest, is where most rivalries are born. As a result, with the Grizzlies' impressive playoff run this year ending in a seven-game series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, they take the title as Memphis' greatest rivals.
No one expected the Grizzlies to upset the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, yet they did. Most chalked it up to luck and an abysmal display of basketball by San Antonio. However, the Grizzlies proved they were for real, pushing Kevin Durant and company to seven games.
What is most impressive is that Memphis did all of the aforementioned without star forward Rudy Gay on the court. He was sidelined most of the season, yet the Grizzlies did not miss a beat.
And for that reason, the Grizzlies seem to believe they could have gone even further with a healthy Gay, which may spark some bitter feelings toward Oklahoma City.
The premise for this will be viewed as weak by many, but the fact is Memphis thinks they have something to prove heading into next season. And they may have their sights set on starting with the Thunder.
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks comprise one of the more historic rivalries that stems back to Pat Riley's decision to leave the Knicks franchise for the Heat's.
Miami and New York met each other in the playoffs for four consecutive years spanning between 1997 and 2000. During that time we saw hard-fought series and two brawls, one in 1997 and another in 1998.
In 1999, the eighth-seeded Knicks upset the top-seeded Heat in the first round of the playoffs on their way to an NBA finals appearance. The two would meet again in 2000 in the second round of the playoffs, with New York winning in seven games.
New York may have won a majority of the postseason series between the two, but every series was tight, and never a runaway for either team.
Due to the Knicks' recent struggles, the Knicks and Heat rivalry has cooled off substantially. However, both teams now have multiple superstars and look poised for a rebirth of the rivalry.
Yet another team without a clear-cut greatest rival are the Milwaukee Bucks, and as a result, the title goes to Central Division rival Chicago Bulls.
Entering the 2010-2011 NBA season, many thought that Milwaukee would give Chicago a run for the division title, obviously not foreseeing Chicago's dominance of the entire conference. The Bucks, on the other hand, finished just outside the playoff race at No. 9 in the East.
With Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, though, the Bucks have a good core in place and hope to be a better match for the Bulls next year, but not much is expected.
The premise for this rivalry is the sheer fact that the Bulls are the top team in the division, and have always been the most talked about team even when they were not relevant, because of Michael Jordan's rich history. As a result, the Bucks will be gunning for them as a measuring stick to show their improvement in the coming years.
Picking the greatest rival for the Timberwolves proves to be a bit of a challenge, because they do not have a clear one by any means. The best choice for them may be the San Antonio Spurs.
Why the Spurs? During the time when Minnesota was eliminated from the first round of the playoffs in seven consecutive years, the Spurs beat them twice, the most out of any team. It is not an incredible premise for the rivalry, but the Spurs proved to be the darkest figure of Minnesota's playoff struggles.
With Kevin Garnett now on the Celtics, the rivalry is obviously dead. Minnesota has not made the playoffs since his departure and although Kevin Love is a pillar for the future, it is unclear whether the Timberwolves are ready to give the Spurs another opportunity to eliminate them in the playoffs.
The New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks have really never been serious contenders at the same time, but the Knicks are still the Nets' greatest rivals.
When Jason Kidd led the Nets, New York suffered a first-round sweep at the hands of New Jersey in 2004, and that is really the extent of the two organizations' meaningful matchups together.
However, the rivalry is about to be rekindled as the Nets prepare to move to Brooklyn under new owner Mikihail Prokhorov. New Jersey even posted a billboard last summer in Knicks territory stating that Prokhorov and minority owner Jay-Z were the "blueprint for success".
And if that doesn't do it, we always have the notion that the Knicks beat out the Nets in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.
Clearly this rivalry stems more from off-the-court issues than on-court ones, but it is a rivalry nonetheless.
And it is the greatest rivalry the Nets have ever had.
The New Orleans Hornets do not have a notably historic rivalry with any NBA team from on-court occurrences, but there is a candidate in the Memphis Grizzlies for an off-the-court one.
When the Hornets were based out of Charlotte, and the Grizzlies in Vancouver, both teams applied to relocate to the Memphis market. And we obviously know how that turned out.
The Grizzlies are in the city the Hornets originally wanted to play in, and that is the basis for this rivalry, especially since the pending battle between Chris Paul and free agency is not a legitimate candidate.
This is another example of a mutual greatest rivalry.
The New York Knicks had strong candidates in the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, but no team has prevented their success more so than the Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. In eight postseason series against the Bulls, the Knicks have only won one, easily proving the aforementioned point.
Chicago, for lack of a better word, ruined countless promising Knicks seasons by bringing them back to reality in the postseason. All but two series went to six or seven games, a perfect stat to illustrate just how brutal each meeting between the two teams was.
And at the risk of being too blunt, the Bulls, sans the series against the Houston Rockets in 1994, are the biggest reason that the Patrick Ewing led the Knicks to an NBA title.
This rivalry has been one for the ages. The emergence of the Bulls as one of the league's premiere teams, coupled with the Knicks' acquisitions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, suggests that maybe there will a renaissance of said rivalry.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have not been around all that long, but they may have found themselves a great rival in the Dallas Mavericks.
After an impressive playoff run, the Thunder lost to the Mavs in five games in the Western Conference Finals. In the series, Dirk Nowitzki and the eventual NBA champion Mavericks exposed a great deal of weaknesses that Oklahoma City possessed, especially between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The series led to an array of speculation regarding whether or not the Thunder should consider trading Westbrook, chatter that no one saw coming after the success the pair experienced in the regular season.
If such speculation can be traced back to the Dallas series then the Thunder definitely will have something to prove against them next season. After all, their loss to them in the postseason, especially after not having any notable troubles against them in the regular season, caused the roster upheaval chatter to begin.
So while many may maintain that the Thunder are their own worst enemy, I'm inclined to give that title to the Mavericks at this point.
The Orlando Magic could fall into the category of a team without a clear-cut rival because right now, with every team waiting to see what happens with star center Dwight Howard, every franchise is their rival.
However, an interesting article posted by Sean Deveney of Sporting News indicates that the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic are the league's most underrated rivalry. A big part of this has to do with the matchup between Kevin Garnett and Howard, two of the best rebounders in the league.
Howard is clearly the better player at this point, but Garnett also serves as something much more to Howard: a reason for him to leave Orlando.
When Garnett was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he only got past the first round of the playoffs once, and he has even admitted that his loyalty to the team was bad for his career in terms of the pursuit of a championship.
Garnett eventually made his way onto the Celtics, who offered much greener pastures and a supporting cast that he never had in Minnesota. And Howard is in the same situation with the Magic.
Howard is the lone star on Orlando and has never had a premiere supporting cast. Without him, the Magic are a lottery team, and that may be a crippling pressure he no longer wants to endure. He wants to win a championship and may have learned something from Garnett's past endeavors.
As a result, when the Magic play the Celtics they are playing for much more than a potential "W." They are playing to prove that a team built solely around one star is capable of being just as a effective as a team with multiple stars.
With Howard's free agency period on the horizon, this rivalry is sure to heat up next season.
The Philadelphia 76ers' rivalry with the Boston Celtics is a relatively unspoken one, yet it definitely exists.
Boston and Philadelphia have met each other 18 times in the NBA playoffs, out of which the 76ers have won seven times.
One of the best known battles between the two came in the 1981 postseason when the Celtics won a grueling seven-game series in the Eastern Conferences Finals against the 76ers. Fans got to see two of the greatest square off against each other in Julius Erving of the 76ers and Larry Bird of the Celtics.
The two teams would met a total of four times in the 1980s, but did not face off again in the postseason until the first round of the 2002 NBA Playoffs, when the Celtics beat the 76ers in five games.
This rivalry has died down substantially over the years, but not completely. Whether or not it reaches its peak again, this rivalry will be remembered most for the countless times the teams faced each other during the '80s.
In the Phoenix Suns we have another organization without a clear-cut greatest rival, but there is a case to be made for the San Antonio Spurs, who served as a major roadblock when the Suns were at the top of their game with Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Nash on the roster.
During the 2008 regular season, Bruce Bowen elbowed Stoudemire in the chest while he was trying to set a pick. It resulted in a relatively small scuffle, but emotions were still running high when the two met in the playoffs that same year.
San Antonio made relatively quick work of the Suns, defeating them in five games. The two would meet again in the 2010 NBA Playoffs in the second round. Phoenix proceeded to sweep the Spurs on their way to the Western Conference Finals.
With the departure of Stoudemire and the Suns being forced to enter a rebuilding stage, the rivalry has cooled down quite a bit, but the two teams' recent history together will always serve as a reminder of what once was.
The Portland Trail Blazers do not have a famed rival, yet the rivalry between them and the Denver Nuggets is beginning to heat up.
Denver finished two games ahead of Portland for the fifth seed this past postseason, and this was after the Carmelo Anthony trade. Both went on to lose in the first round, but on draft night, the Nuggets shipped point guard Raymond Felton to the Blazers, a move that greatly improved Portland's rotation.
While the Nuggets did not have a real need for Felton with Ty Lawson on the roster, the move was slightly puzzling because they dealt him to a division rival. Portland has been looking to prove they are an up-and-coming team, and the addition of Felton helps them greatly.
Additionally, now that they have the bitter taste of finishing behind the Anthony-less Nuggets, they are going to want to prove they are the better team.
This is not a rivalry with a rich foundation, but being in the same division, it is not an unfounded one. Look for it to heat up moving into next season.
The premise for this rivalry dates back to the 2002 NBA Playoffs in which the Kings fell to the Lakers in seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
Sacramento had an opportunity to put the Lakers away in Game 6, but failed. In Game 7, they lost in overtime 112-106. It was the closest that the Kings ever came to an NBA championship, and left a bitter taste in the mouths of many who thought Sacramento was robbed.
However, the Kings failed to reach the finals and went on to serve a term of mediocrity while the Lakers excelled. Since the series serves at the closest the Kings ever got to a championship, it will never be forgotten.
This is also the reason why the Lakers are Sacramento's greatest rival.
If it wasn't for the Los Angeles Lakers, there is a good chance the San Antonio could have ran circles over the rest of the Western Conference for the past decade.
Since 2000, the Spurs and Lakers have faced off four times in the playoffs, with the Lakers winning three of those series. The only year that San Antonio managed to get past the Lakers was in 2003 when they beat Los Angeles in six games in the second round.
Even when the Spurs were winning championships, the Lakers were often favored as potential title winners the next season. Los Angeles proved to be San Antonio's biggest roadblock to their playoff runs this past decade. People also argue that the Spurs did not have to face the Lakers at all during their championship runs in 2005 and 2007, and would not have won if they did.
As a result are the Lakers are the Spurs' greatest rivals.
The Toronto Raptors may be the most difficult team on this list to assign a great rivalry, but the closest thing they have is the Philadelphia 76ers.
For the sheer reason that the 76ers prevented the Raptors from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001.
After defeating the New York Knicks 3-2 in the first round, Toronto fell to Philadelphia in a grueling seven-game series in which Allen Iverson and company proved to be just too much for the Canadian-based Raptors.
Since then, the Raptors have made it to the playoffs three more times, never advancing past the first round. Therefore, this series is the closest they have ever come to an NBA Finals appearance.
The Chicago Bulls have proven to be the biggest road block to the Utah Jazz's championship aspirations, and for that they are their greatest rival.
Utah fell to the Bulls in the finals in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998, both six-game series. The most crippling defeat came in Game 6 of the 1998 finals, when the Jazz were attempting to force a deciding Game 7.
However, Michael Jordan had other plans, nailing a jump shot in the closing seconds to give the Bulls the victory and another NBA title. It was a heartbreaking loss for Utah, who left the title-contending stage almost immediately.
If it was not for the Jordan-led Bulls, the Jazz may have won back-to-back championships. And for that reason Chicago is Utah's greatest rival.
This rivalry has long since died down, but the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers once had quite a rivalry with the Washington Wizards.
Washington fell to Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs three straight times between 2006 and 2008. The Wizards pushed the Cavs to six games in 2006, were swept by them in 2007 and pushed them to six games again in 2008.
Washington could never quite find an answer for LeBron and company, and as a result their impressive playoff berths are forever marred. Additionally, Washington has not been able to shake the LeBron blues and have failed to make the playoffs since 2008.
With both the Cavs and Wizards in rebuilding mode, it is unclear if and when this rivalry could be rekindled.
One thing is certain though: if the rivalry is revived, LeBron won't be in Cleveland to stop the Wizards.
You Can Follow Dan Favale on Twitter @DannyFavs2033.