The season is gearing up for some spectacular matchups. Christmas Day can’t come soon enough because there will be some top rivalries on display. From the NBA Finals rematches to Trae Young’s villain persona in New York, this season will continue the historic trend of two teams flat out not liking each other.
You have to go back to previous relationships that have deteriorated to former players making a homecoming. That includes fierce playoff contests too. Enough introducing. Let’s talk about the most exciting rivalries that will highlight the 2021-2022 season.
10. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
This matchup should be higher, but with the loss of Kawhi Leonard to the season, it’s going to lose some of its lusters. Regardless, the battle of Los Angeles has some spark since the city has two NBA franchises playing at the Staples Center. For now, the Clippers will have the luxury of battling the Lakers inside the same building, but surely the team wants to leave for their new home with the title of being the best team in the area.
The matchup isn’t completely bland. Paul George remains a player that can contend for the top-10 in the league. He alone will keep the team competitive, but it’s not like the Clippers are a complete disaster with Leonard out. The roster is good enough to compete for the playoffs until Leonard comes back, so the team will make the Lakers work for it.
9. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
Anytime a team beats Joel Embiid, you have to wonder what Embiid is thinking about this offseason. The Hawks found a way to take down the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. Embiid is all about bulletin board material. The Hawks knew they weren’t supposed to beat the 76ers, but did anyway and danced their way to the Conference Finals.
The 76ers haven’t made the Conference Finals since 2001, while Embiid has slowly developed a reputation as a player that can’t get out of the second round. That has to leave a sour taste in the MVP runner-up. Emotions aren’t going to be high, but the 76ers are going to look to beat down the Hawks from what happened last year.
8. Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Even without Leonard, this series is going to be exciting. The Clippers and Mavericks have been playoff foes in the first round each of the last two years. The Clippers have been victorious in both years. No way does Luka Doncic forget something like that. The first time these two teams play, you have to believe the Mavericks are going to come out and try and win by 30 points.
The Mavericks are healthy for the first time in two years. Even with the Clippers not healthy, the team is good enough to contend for the playoffs. If the Mavericks fall to the Clippers, who are without a top-5 player in the league, the trade rumors will circulate around Kristaps Porzingis again. Then, the drama will return to Dallas.
7. Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks
Basketball is more exciting when the Knicks are competitive. It’s even more exciting when two teams in the New York area are competitive at the same time. The Knicks broke onto the scene by making the playoffs last season as the No. 4 seed. Julius Randle is coming off a season that saw him win Most Improved Player, while Tom Thibodeau won Coach of the Year. The Knicks are back to competing for the first time since 2013 on a national level.
Then, the Knicks went out and made some moves by signing Evan Fournier and resigning Derrick Rose. You can’t rule out the Knicks being a contender for a superstar from now until the deadline either. With RJ Barrett poised to have his best year yet, the Knicks are going to make the battle for New York fun again, which means somewhere Spike Lee is rejoicing.
6. Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
An NBA Finals rematch has to make the top-10 list, especially when the bulk of each team’s roster returns. Both teams were quiet in free agency, so when the team plays each other for the first time, this will truly be both teams running it back. The Bucks crushed Chris Paul’s dreams. The 36-year old made the NBA Finals for the first time in his career and remains without a championship. You don’t think he’s not itching to take down the Bucks the first chance he gets.
As for Milwaukee, this will be their chance to show they are truly the better team. The NBA Finals went six games and it took 50 points from Giannis Antetkounmpo to dispose of the Suns in Game 6. The Suns are good enough to make it back to the NBA Finals. This will be an entertaining game from a competitive standpoint.
5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat
With Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker in Miami, the Heat have a chance to be one of the most intense teams in the league. Jimmy Butler is always all business. Bam Adebayo gives max effort wherever he plays. The Heat was down last year, but this roster has the potential to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Heat was also the team that took down the Bucks in 2020 on route to making the NBA Finals.
Having Tucker on the Heat gives this an added emotional element. Tucker was a major contributor to the championship-winning Bucks. He will be looking to take down his former team. As for Milwaukee, they will look to continue their reign as one of the best teams in the league.
4. Atlanta Hawks vs. New York Knicks
Trae Young is the only player in recent memory that could turn a fan-based on him so quickly just by being himself. Russell Westbrook has rubbed people the wrong way, but we have never seen a fanbase absolutely despite one player like the Knicks do with Young. Granted, Young did get the upper hand by beating the Knicks, which has left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and players.
The Hawks bounced the Knicks from the playoffs, but it was Young that taunted the fans. He loved the negative attention and graciously welcomed the villain role in New York. He loved the attention. It almost fueled him to play better. Naturally, that rubbed some people the wrong way. The first time Young airballs a shot, Madison Square Garden is going to be one loud arena.
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors
Now that the Warriors are healthy, this has a real chance to be one of the best games on the slate. Assuming Klay Thompson is 100%, this could have a back and forth just like the good ole days of Cleveland vs. Golden State. Even though Steph Curry and LeBron James are not heated rivals, you have to take into account their history.
Curry and LeBron met in the NBA Finals each year from 2015 to 2018 with Curry winning three championships. LeBron won his only championship by dethroning Currys Warriors, who had won an NBA record 73 games that season. These two are rivals, even if it’s friendly. Assuming both teams can be healthy, this has promise for one of the best games all year.
2. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant was inches away from sending the Nets to the NBA Finals. Had that happened, Giannis Antetkonmpo would be talked about as a player that can’t make the Finals. Mike Budenholzer is without a job and the 50-year drought in Milwaukee would continue. Instead, we are discussing why James Harden can’t make the NBA Finals and how Durant can’t seal the deal without a superteam.
Both teams return the majority of their team. This was a seven-game series in the second round, so the first game back is going to be a competitive match. These two teams don’t hate each other. They are just so fiercely competitive that the highlight reel is going to last over 10 minutes long.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets
How can this not be the most exciting game to watch in the NBA? Kyrie Irving vs. Lebron James. Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook. You have James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and LaMarcus Aldridge all seeing the floor at one point. There are so many potential Hall of Famers on this list that this feels like a legacy exhibition being played on NBA 2K.
This also has potential Finals preview implications. The world believes that the Finals will feature these two teams. This will give us an idea of who has the upper hand. Outside of the drama between Irving and LeBron, as well as the history between Durant and Westbrook, this is the most must-watch game that will be played on the schedule.