Which NBA rivalries could shape basketball’s next five years? | NBA

The NBA’s ever-changing nature means that rivalries are fickle. When Philadelphia traded picks with Boston to take Markelle Fultz with the No 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, and the Celtics selected Jayson Tatum third, the teams’ proximity and prior history had all the makings of a classic. But while Tatum is a perennial All-Star, Fultz soon developed the shooting yips and was quickly shipped to the Magic.

The modern-day uptick in team-switching has made for less of the classic rivalries that defined previous eras, such as Magic Johnson’s Lakers v Larry Bird’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls v the Bad Boys’ Pistons. But when the stars do align, these marquee matchups make for gripping theater.

Here are five rivalries that could shape the next five years.

1) Zion Williamson v Ja Morant

When Williamson and Morant were taken with the top two picks in the 2019 NBA draft, it seemed only a matter of time before the duo would battle for NBA supremacy. But with Williamson’s injury issues (just 85 games played in his first three seasons) and Morant’s uncertain path to the NBA (he wasn’t even a ESPN top 100 high-school recruit), it’s remarkable the pair remain side-by-side.

The Zion-Ja rivalry is unique in many ways. Aside from being selected after one another by teams in the same conference and division, New Orleans and Memphis’ timelines for title contention have finally converged. The duo are separated only by a stretch of Interstate 55, a proximity that suggests it’s meant to be. With the Grizzlies and Pelicans inside the top four positions in the West, the prospect of these two superstars meeting deep in the playoffs later this season, and for many years to come, is becoming more likely by the day.

2) Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies

As closely as Ja and Zion are linked, each star has other players and teams on their minds. For Ja, it’s the reigning champion Golden State. A quick recap: In the 2021 play-in tournament, the young Grizzlies defeated a depleted Warriors side in overtime to make the playoffs and send Golden State packing. Last season, a day after the Grizzlies thumped the Warriors in a regular-season game by 29 points, Jaren Jackson Jr tweeted “Strength in numbers”, a reference mocking Golden State’s team slogan. The two adversaries then met in the Western Conference semis, with Golden State advancing in six games in a highly entertaining series. After the Warriors saw off Boston to win their fourth NBA title in eight years, Klay Thompson reminded the world of just how good his team was, labeling Jackson a “freaking bum” in the process.

While the Grizzlies have progressed toward the top of the standings, the Warriors currently sit in the last play-in tournament position with a 23-24 record. One key problem has been the lack of game time the Splash Brothers have shared; Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have played just 27 games together. That said, the best shooting duo in history has experienced almost every situation, so it might not matter where they finish for them to make yet another deep run.

New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns
The Suns and Pelicans met in a playoff series last season that could prime the pump for a feisty rivalry in coming years. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

3) New Orleans Pelicans v Phoenix Suns

For Zion, it’s the Phoenix Suns led by point guard Chris Paul. On paper, these two teams should be best friends: CP3 was drafted by the then Hornets fourth overall in the 2005 NBA draft, and led them to the Western Conference semi-finals in 2008, after the franchise played their home games in Oklahoma City for two seasons due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. CP3 is also close with current Pelicans head coach Willie Green after they both played under current Suns head coach Monty Williams, with Green going on to become an assistant coach under Williams in Phoenix.

Things got feisty when the pair met in last season’s playoffs for the first time, with Phoenix eventually prevailing in six heated and absorbing games. Zion was absent for the entirety of last season, meaning he missed out on all of the fun. As a refresher, Zion threw down a 360 windmill dunk with New Orleans up nine points and less than 10 seconds to go in a regular-season game in December. That sparked a brawl that included Paul giving Jose Alvarado an elbow to the face. The Pelicans won the regular-season series 2-1, setting up a potential classic in April or beyond.

4) LeBron James v Kawhi Leonard (just)

The 2019 offseason was one of the most memorable in NBA history. On one side of Los Angeles, the Lakers finally traded for Anthony Davis to give LeBron James a legit superstar sidekick in his quest for a fourth NBA title. But it was the other team in LA that stole the headlines as it pulled off one of the greatest coups ever. A season of overachievement, where the Clippers claimed the No 8 seed in the West before valiantly losing to the Warriors in six, was enough to convince Kawhi Leonard to do something no NBA finals MVP has ever done by leaving a reigning champion – the Toronto Raptors – in free agency, breaking the hearts of all Canadians in the process. While Twitter tracked private jets, Leonard convinced the Clippers’ front office to poach Paul George from Oklahoma City for a historic haul of draft picks and young assets. The battle for LA the NBA had been waiting decades for was finally on.

But fast forward three-and-a-half years, basketball fans have so far witnessed a historic Clippers playoffs collapse, a Lakers title, a Lakers playoffs collapse, a Clippers Western Conference finals run … and more waiting. After everything that’s happened, this rivalry is hanging on by a thread and makes it onto the list because of the small hope that the fifth-seeded Clippers and 13th-placed Lakers can still cross paths in the playoffs. At this point, NBA fans would take anything, even if it’s a one-game faceoff between these Crypto.com Arena co-tenants in the play-in tournament.

5) Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks

There’s no shortage of history between these clubs. They first met in a classic seven-game NBA finals in 1974, when Dave Cowens and John Havlicek overcame a Milwaukee side helmed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and Oscar Robertson, followed by three more playoff meetings during the 1980s..

But there are signs the best may be yet to come. Since splitting a pair of postseason series in 2018 and 2019, the Celtics and Bucks have only further entrenched themselves atop the Eastern Conference – with Milwaukee having finally ended their five-decade championship hoodoo in 2021 and Boston charting a long-sought return to the NBA finals in 2022. With only a half-game separating the two sides for the league’s best record entering the weekend – and both star-laden rosters apparently built to contend for years to come – we may only be scratching the surface of Antetokounmpo and co v Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

#NBA #rivalries #shape #basketballs #years #NBA

Leave a Comment