Over time, some of the biggest NBA rivalries have been born among various teams. These existing rivalries, of course, add to the competitiveness of the basketball sport.
The underlying fact that specific National Basketball Association games have more ring to it than just its final score propels more excitement and drive and leads to a showcase of class and quality plays.
SportyTell lists the ultimate top-20 biggest NBA rivalries in the history of the sport.
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Table of Contents
The Biggest NBA Rivalries of All-Time
20. Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
Miami Heat’s tragic loss in the 2010 postseason at the Boston Celtics’ hands was the seed of the rivalry between both franchises. In a bid to never suffer defeat at the Celtics’ hands, ‘The Heatles’ stepped up their games, recruiting top players like LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who had also tasted defeats against the Celtics severally. Since then, a match between both franchises is more of an avenue to prove the dominant team.
19. Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat
The Heat was the NBA’s winning pride with three-star players’ acquisition, trashing teams in glorious victory. However, one team proved a thick crowd wrong and stood a threat to their winning ways—Indiana Pacers. Such was the defense tactic of the Pacers; they frustrated the offense of the Miami Heat. Soon Indiana pacers vs. Miami Heat game became a sought after game in the NBA, with fans and pundits anticipating another war of basketball.
18. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
The seed of the rivalry between both franchises traces back to the 1980s when the ‘Showtime Lakers’ controlled the NBA matches. The Phoenix suns suffered gruesome defeat at the hands of Los Angeles, which built an inbound hatred in the Phoenix’s camp against the Los Angeles Lakers.
17. Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs
Due to their proximity to one another, a game between both teams is a vital bragging right to the emerging winner. So a never-ending rivalry comes into play, given their geographical location.
16. New York Knicks vs. Washington Wizards
Having met more often than any other NBA team, their rivalry stems from playing each other so often. This more than often encounter between both teams has made a game between both franchises intense, with each side determined to emerge victoriously.
15. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs
The two best basketball franchise in the west always impress spectators with electrifying plays whenever they encounter. The spurs happen to be the better of the duo in terms of NBA achievement, and for that sole reason, being from the same Geographical region has prompted rivalry between both franchises.
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14. Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
The two basketball teams are rivals with more face-off consecutively in recent seasons with the championship title on the line. 2013 saw Miami Heat drawing first blood after defeating the Spurs to win the championship title. However, the spurs came back the following season to enact perfect revenge in a similar manner in the NBA final, defeating Miami Heat by a record margin to become NBA champions.
13. Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs
They have both met in playoff matchups regularly since the 1990s, and thus their familiarity on the court over the years has grown a rivalry between both franchises. It became more intense when the Suns and Spurs starred NBA MVPs in their team, and the never-ending struggle for dominance in the NBA led to one of the most fantastic NBA rivalry slugfests.
12. Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The rivalry between these two stretches far back as 1950; the Los Angeles Lakers had matched up with the Detroit Pistons in 13 postseasons match, winning nine and losing once. As time passed on in the NBA, coupled with the geographical distinction, it wasn’t long before a rivalry was born between both franchises.
11. Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics
After the Hawks and the Boston clashed in four NBA finals, with the hawks coming out as the losing team, it became a rivalry for the Hawks against the Celtics, who sought payback against Boston Celtics since then. However, the Hawks are yet to win their first title since the franchise move to Atlanta.
10. Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks
Although both teams are located on opposite coasts, a tussle of influence still rages on between both franchises. History of clashes in the NBA finals between both franchises, with the Lakers coming out on top, has further cemented the foundation for a never-ending rivalry in the NBA.
9. Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks
The fact that each time the two teams encountered, they pitted two best centers back in the game against each other made their rivalry phenomenal. There are other behind the scene facts, including numerous playoff battles that account for both franchise shares’ rivalry.
8. Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
The Chicago bulls ruled the NBA in the 1990s been crowned six championship titles in the decade. However, a physically draining New York Knicks were often a constant stumbling block of opposition to their championship dreams. Thus, becoming their rival, especially with both sides having star rival players (Patrick Ewing of New York Knicks and Michael Jordan of Chicago Bulls) who didn’t tolerate each other on the court.
7. Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Both franchise was a powerhouse who dominated the NBA within 1999-2014 winning 10 NBA championship out of 15. From the coaches to the players of both sides, the rivalry between both franchises was fierce. Both sides had two of the greatest coaches, so the battle for dominance between the duo was intensely competitive.
6. Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons
After Boston momentarily attained success in the 1980s after featuring in five NBA finals and winning three, Detroit Pistons rose to the occasion and became a major challenger to Boston Celtics. Thus an intense rivalry in the NBA came into birth.
5. Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
Pacers and Knicks both had incredible players who made headlines during their peak in the NBA—Miller and Ewing. A clash between Pacers and Knicks was a clash of basketball titans. Indiana Pacers’ Miller was a showman whose performance in games against New York Knicks took the notch’s rivalry. He would be remembered for his iconic performance against the Knicks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
The modern era of the game saw these two sides faced off in four straight NBA finals. Their frequent meeting in the NBA final from 2015-2018 naturally built an unsettling rivalry between the two franchises.
3. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The rivalry between Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers stems back as far as the 1950s. It has become fiercer in recent years, with both franchises clashing in the postseason. The rivalry, centered around two of NBA’s greatest players at the time, has since followed suite into the next generation of both franchise players.
2. Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons
Although Michael Jordan was a phenomenal player in the game, team success wasn’t his luck, and he suffered a great deal of that at the hands of the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons dominated the Eastern Conference with their physical style of play on the court, and the Chicago Bulls tasted a series of defeats against the pistons. But the 1991 season took a twist. Jordan and the Bull were stronger and hit incredulous form. They defeated Detroit that season to advance to the NBA final.
1. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The existing rivalry between these two basketball teams that has spanned across decades is one of the entertaining NBA rivalries in history. The seed of the rivalry could be traced back to the 1950s through to the 1960s when a star-studded Celtic made a clean sweep of nine titles in 10 seasons, annihilating the Lakers to gruesome defeats seven times in the process.
Which team rivalries in NBA excites you?
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