A Primer on the Best Beefs and Rivalries Heading into 2015-16 NBA Playoffs

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers dribbles against Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during a game at Staples Center on November 19, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The NBA playoffs come with serious baggage.

Sift through the league's 16 participants and you'll find un-chewable beef everywhere. Teams hating teams, players hating players, executives hating executives—you name it.

We may also see legitimate on-court rivalries. This year's playoff bracket has drama everywhere.

Not all of these basketball rumbles will be rehashed during the postseason. Seeding makes certain matchups beyond unlikely. But it still helps to revisit and relive some of the biggest feuds.

Team Beefs


LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles around a pick by teammate Draymond Green #23 as Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers runs into Green in the second half during the NBA game at Staples Center on D
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors don't like each other. That's not the media musing; it's paraphrasing Draymond Green.

"We always want to beat them, and they always want to beat us," he said in November, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "There's definitely more respect than people think, but it's also no secret that we don't like them and they don't like us."

That might be an understatement. The animosity shared between these two parties predates even Golden State's rise to the top of the NBA.

Some of the greatest hits from this team-hates-team beef include: 

  • Chris Paul's distaste for the Warriors celebrating an early-season win over his Clippers (November 2012)
  • Green's ejection for elbowing Griffin in the face (December 2013)
  • Andrew Bogut and Griffin "tangling up" after Green's ejection (December 2013
  • Griffin accidentally, or deliberately, emptying a cup of water onto a Warriors fan (April 2014)

It gets way more middle school. Green's celebratory tongue-wagging in Griffin's face (November 2014) cooked the beef ever hotter: 

The show-up-manship burns more when it comes in basketball form, like Stephen Curry showing no regard for the self-esteem of Clippers players (March 2015):

Not even Paul could keep his balance:

Tensions have only increased since Golden State's title push. Coach and president Doc Rivers infamously told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, then of Grantland, that luck had something to do with the 2015-16 Warriors' title run, because they "didn’t have to play us or the [San Antonio] Spurs."

Both Green and Curry would later eviscerate the Clippers. The former was direct with his vitriol, while the reigning MVP decided to take a more subtle approach.

"I apologize for us being healthy, I apologize for us playing who was in front of us," Curry said, per ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss. "I apologize for all the accolades we received as a team and individually. I'm very, truly sorry, and we'll rectify that situation this year." 

Did they ever. The Warriors, while still healthy, just set the NBA's all-time regular-season wins record, in case you hadn't heard.

If both Golden State and Los Angeles handle business in the first round, they'll meet in the Western Conference semifinals. Pass the popcorn.



LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 23:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies fouls Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the second half during the NBA game at Staples Center on February 23, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User express
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Two years have passed since the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies last met in the playoffs. Barring a surprise Clippers-Grizzlies Western Conference Finals, that drought will continue through 2016.

We nevertheless include them for nostalgic reasons. And because Matt Barnes has switched sides of this rivalry.

And because this, from the 2013 postseason, is still glorious:


OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - OCTOBER 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder tries to block Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Center on October 28, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

When the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced past the Spurs in 2012 to reach the NBA Finals, it was supposed to be the first of many annual Western Conference Finals clashes.

It wasn't. Untimely injuries have ruined each of the Thunder's last three seasons. They would meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals again during their 2014 playoff crusade, though they were far from healthy, mustering two victories before bowing out. 

Provided Oklahoma City gets past Dallas, and San Antonio dispatches Memphis, the two sides are due for a reunion, at full strength, in the second round. The Western Conference belt won't be at stake, but the right to hand that belt to Golden State in the next seven-game set will be. 

Plus, this hypothetical matchup will be the Spurs' last chance to make an impression on Kevin Durant before trying to steal him from the Thunder in free agency.

Think about what this rivalry would become if he traded in Russell Westbrook's chest bumps for Kawhi Leonard's soul-searing stares.


SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 10: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs drives on Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center on April 10, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. The Warriors won 92-86, tying the all-time record for wins in a season wi
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

File the Spurs and Warriors under the "Reluctant Rivals" category.

They don't exchange verbal barbs. Tim Duncan doesn't "accidentally" shower random Warriors fans sitting courtside with strawberry Ensure. Green has yet to elbow Boban Marjanovic in the jaw—not that he could reach Boban's jaw. And to this point, no Warrior has come close to licking a Spurs player.

Golden State and San Antonio are placed together because they're two of the best teams in league history. It's the Warriors who have the NBA wins record, but the Spurs have the better net rating. The Warriors are small-ball visionaries, but the Spurs are adding vintage flavor to modern-day greatness.

Get used to the comparisons and head-to-head dissections. Unless the basketball gods genuinely hate us, the ultimate bragging rights will be up for grabs in the Western Conference Finals.


Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James walks off the court in the final seconds of the game against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 to win the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Warriors took the best-of-seve

Mystery is the foundation around which the Cleveland Cavaliers-Warriors rivalry is built.

LeBron James was left alone to carry Cleveland in last year's NBA Finals. Kevin Love was injured during the Cavs' first-round series with Boston, and Kyrie Irving didn't make it past Game 1.

There was something transcendent, albeit inefficient, about the way James ferried a band of average Joes to a pair of victories over a clearly superior Warriors squad. And there are those who believe the Cavaliers would have won if not for the injuries to Irving and Love.

Irving dumped chlorine trifluoride on that fire over the summer during an appearance for The Big Podcast with Shaquille O'Neal, saying he "felt like we would have definitely won an NBA championship if everyone was healthy."

While the Cavaliers lost both of the regular-season meetings with the Warriors, the second of which was a 34-point drubbing, they remain the unquestioned favorites to come out of the East. Irving could have a chance to back up his words.

Golden State, conversely, could have a chance to make him eat them.

Personal Beefs


Tony Dejak/Associated Press

On some level, the Boston Celtics played a part in James leaving Cleveland. 

In the three playoff pushes he made with the Cavaliers after that initial 2007 NBA Finals bid, the Celtics handed him an exit twice—including in 2010, just before he left Cleveland for Miami. James would eliminate Boston twice while in Miami and then again last year as a member of the Cavaliers.

The rivalry should be dead with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers all gone. But as recently as last spring, Boston gave James the heebie jeebies.

"I've got the same feelings," he said of the Celtics just before the Cavaliers swept them in the first round last April, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

Boston and Cleveland can meet in the second phase of this postseason, where Kevin Love could get his chance at revenge (more on that later). The Cavaliers have to take care of the Detroit Pistons; the Celtics need to unseat the Atlanta Hawks

Wouldn't it be fitting if Boston upset James yet again, before even the Eastern Conference Finals, prompting him to leave Cleveland in free agency once more? 


MIAMI, FL - MARCH 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers posts up Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat  during a game  at American Airlines Arena on March 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Remember that one time James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010 and helped them win two titles?

And then remember that other time when he left Miami to rejoin the Cavaliers?

So does Heat president Pat Riley.


CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 30: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs wait for a rebound during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on January 30, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Spurs
Jason Miller/Getty Images

If not for the Spurs, James might have four championship rings instead of two. He is 1-2 against them in championship bouts.

Does he harbor animosity toward San Antonio? Or is he more angry Larry Hughes was the second option on one of those teams, the 2006-07 Cavaliers, that the Spurs dismantled? That's up for debate. 

Regardless, his letdowns against San Antonio, specifically when he was with Miami in 2014, have to somewhat haunt him. 

Mark Cuban-Daryl Morey

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 22:  Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban shouts from the bench during an NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on December 22, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Writing for now-defunct Grantland, Jason Concepcion expertly mapped out a timeline of the Cuban-Morey feud. It dates back to July 2013, with their simultaneous pursuit of Dwight Howard.

Morey, however, crossed a line during the process: He tried to trade for Dirk Nowitzki using the worst possible sell, as he would later admit at the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, per Brett Pollakoff, then of NBC Sports:

This is where my emotion takes over,” Morey said. “I go into a complete panic. I really did. I thought it was down to us, Dallas, L.A.”

So Morey called Mark Cuban to try and poach his franchise superstar.

“I was like, ‘Well, you’re not getting Dwight Howard. Can you trade us Dirk Nowitzki?'” Morey said. “It was a bad moment for me.”

A really bad moment, considering that Howard had already informed Dallas that he was signing elsewhere, even though Morey hadn’t been made aware of his decision just yet.

“Mark thought I was taunting him,” Morey said.

No wonder the Mavericks would later push hard for Chandler Parsons in free agency. Cuban would also go on to belittle the Rockets' approach to chemistry in 2014 on KRLD-FM Radio (h/t the Dallas Morning News via NBC Sports).

Following Houston's five-game takedown of Dallas in the first round last season, the two appeared to be on good terms. The Mavericks and Rockets can only increase the beef if they meet in this year’s Western Conference Finals, and that’s not going to happen! Good times.

But with all the cap space that'll be floating around this summer, Cuban and Morey will be directly competing for some of the biggest names, including both Howard and Parsons. This rivalry may get a 15th wind yet!

Hassan Whiteside-Draymond Green

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat blocks the shot on Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors during the game at the American Airlines Arena on February 24, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

We could be in for some epic Twitter back-and-forths if the Warriors and (against the odds) Heat reach the NBA Finals.

Hassan Whiteside educated the world this past August on the merits of traditionally sized bigs. Green took umbrage and off they went. Their tweets have been deleted, but their sub-140-character digs are forever.

For his part, Whiteside rehashed the beef in February, as Miami prepared to host Golden State, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

Neither Green nor Whiteside has much to complain about right now. Green is 6’6” and plays every position, a quintessential billboard for the NBA’s evolving style of play. Whiteside, a 7-foot skyscraper, is swallowing shots at the rim and finishing pick-and-roll lobs better than anyone not named DeAndre Jordan. This whole he-said, he-said, small-is-better, no-big-is-best thing could easily devolve into nothing.

Pit these two against each other, and it becomes a piping-hot storyline once more—one presumably rife with flagrant fouls.

LaMarcus Aldridge-Damian Lillard

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MARCH 17: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers has his shot blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge  #12 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on March 17, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

To this day, the details surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure from the Portland Trail Blazers remain murky. But, as Amick wrote in July, his exit had something, slight or significant, to do with Damian Lillard:

The difficult dynamic between Aldridge and Lillard was as real as advertised, but it wasn't a personality clash so much as a problem with their respective profiles. Marketing is a funny thing that way, and the harsh truth about Aldridge's portfolio is that it's not nearly what it should be, in large part, because of the way in which he has handled his own affairs.

Amick also noted that Aldridge was slow to respond when Lillard tried making a last-ditch effort to keep him in Portland.

Sure, we shouldn’t blow this out of proportion. Aldridge is playing for the second-best team in the league, and the Blazers were just seven wins off last year’s pace without him. But let’s not pretend this is nothing. Aldridge and Lillard co-headlined a contender, and yet their working relationship appeared to border on nonexistent, if dysfunctional.

Bank on both Aldridge and Lillard playing with salt-and-vinegar chips on their shoulders if they meet in the Western Conference Finals.

Just don’t bank on them actually meeting in the Western Conference Finals.

Kelly Olynyk-Kevin Love

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 26: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers injures his shoulder as he chases a loose ball against Kelly Olynyk #41 of the Boston Celtics in the first half in Game Four during the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2015
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Think Love has, as he’s said before, forgiven Kelly Olynyk for dislocating his left shoulder and causing him to miss most of Cleveland’s NBA Finals run last year?

We turn to the tape:

OK, yeah. Probably not.

Honorary Beefs

Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook-Reggie Jackson

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 27:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives to the basket while guarded by Reggie Jackson #1 of the Detroit Pistons on November 27, 2015 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

On the heels of the Detroit Pistons’ March 29 victory over the Thunder, Reggie Jackson, who spent the better part of four seasons in Oklahoma City, was pumped. Super pumped.

Maybe too pumped:

"Honestly, I think that was some real bulls--t," Westbrook said of Jackson’s celebrations, per ESPN.com’s Royce Young. "I don't appreciate it for our team and our organization. I don't like it at all. But it is what it is. We'll see him down the line. We'll take care of that when we get there."

"It was bush league, in my opinion," Durant, who didn’t play in that game, later added, per USA Today’s AJ Neuharth-Keusch. "Jumping up and down, running around...I understand you helped them win the game, but our whole team didn't play. We'd have beat the (expletive) out of them if we did, you know?"

Jackson will want to watch his back if the Pistons meet the Thunder in the NBA Finals.

(He totally doesn’t need to watch his back.)

Raptors-First-Round Exits 

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 28:  Kyle Lowry #7 and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors talk during the first half of an NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Air Canada Centre on March 28, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User exp
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors have one directive this postseason: survive the first round for a change.

This core has suffered two consecutive opening-set exits, and the franchise has won just a single playoff series since inception. And that was in 2001. As the East’s No. 2 seed, the Raptors must cruise past the Indiana Pacers.

Get bounced in the first round again, and it could get ugly for this roster. 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.


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