The New Rivalries of the NBA

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

The New Rivalries of the NBA

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    Forget the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Those two titans have been dominating the conversation about the NBA's biggest rivalries for long enough.

    It's time for some new adversarial blood.

    With the 2013-14 season just around the corner, we'll look ahead at some of the most-heated rivalries on the horizon. In some cases, public sniping has helped create new enemies. In others, the bad blood derives from heated playoff series.

    And in some instances, certain teams and players—like Kyrie Irving and John Wall, for example—are simply on collision courses with one another.

    Pick a side, and hold your ground. It's time to run down the rivalries of the next generation.

Brandon Jennings vs. Larry Sanders

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    Sometimes, former friends make the best enemies. It worked for Professor X and Magneto, and the hatred between the city of Boston and Roger Clemens is fueled by the sting of long-dead affection.

    Enter Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders, former teammates with the Milwaukee Bucks who are now taking shots at one another from a distance.

    Jennings started things off by lauding the new bigs he'd get to play with as a new member of the Detroit Pistons, but Sanders fired back, pointing out that Jennings would actually have to pass the ball for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to do anything with it.

    Then, Jennings countered by impugning Sanders' offensive skills by saying, "Sometimes, you gotta be able to finish."

    Both of these outspoken players are on teams that figure to vie for a playoff spot in the East, so the stakes of their budding rivalry could move beyond being merely personal this year.

Paul George vs. LeBron James

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    Paul George earned LeBron James' respect last season, but don't expect the Indiana Pacers star to be satisfied with that.

    He'll be looking to topple the King this year.

    For the past couple of seasons, James and Kevin Durant have been measured against one another as rivals. Given the fact that they're the two best players in the league, that makes sense.

    But with Durant's team suddenly looking weaker than it has in recent seasons and George's emergence during the 2012-13 playoffs, it appears that the James-Durant battle is on hold. Conversely, the struggle between George's Pacers and James' Heat is just getting started.

    LBJ is still a few notches above George in the NBA hierarchy, but we know for certain that Indy's small forward isn't afraid to climb the ladder. There's plenty of respect between these two players, but there's also a mutual understanding that the road to the NBA championship isn't wide enough for the both of them.

    They're going to collide eventually.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

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    The bad blood between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets only dates back to Feb. 5, 2013, when the Rockets tied an NBA record by drilling 23 triples against the Dubs.

    As Houston sought to break the record in a blowout, the Warriors took offense. Draymond Green committed a hard foul on Patrick Beverley with 34 seconds remaining, and the tension that had been bubbling throughout the fourth quarter threatened to boil over.

    No punches were thrown, but plenty of heated exchanges took place between players.

    And then Chandler Parsons dropped a postgame "Hand down, man down" on Twitter, using Warriors head coach Mark Jackson's own catchphrase against him. As verbal barbs go, it was an A-plus.

    If that game and the post-contest sniping were the only bones of contention between these two teams, we'd still have a pretty good rivalry.

    But because each squad is angling to be the West's next up-and-coming superpower, things figure to get doubly intense during what's sure to be a tight race this year.

Kyrie Irving vs. John Wall

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    In much the same way the Warriors and Rockets are battling to gain a foothold in the Western Conference's upper echelon, John Wall and Kyrie Irving are positioned to run up against one another repeatedly as their teams strive to secure a playoff spot in the East.

    There's no beef between this duo so far, but that doesn't preclude them from becoming legitimate rivals.

    Think about it: Both the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers are finally nearing respectability after years of bottom-feeding, and both are led by young point guards with superstar potential. Not only that, but both Irving and Wall were No. 1-overall picks who have struggled with injuries.

    Their individual histories and the positions of their teams are remarkably similar.

    So as the Cavs and Wizards work to climb the ranks in the East, these two point guards are going to have a lot to say about which club comes out on top. It's possible that there's not room in the postseason picture for both of them this year, so this rivalry could get off to a spectacular start in 2013-14.

New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets

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    This one doesn't technically count as a "new" rivalry, but thanks to some fresh player movement and a recent war of words, we're calling the battle between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets the league's best "renewed" rivalry.

    Paul Pierce and J.R. Smith have traded digs in recent months, and as the Nets continue to spend like a socialite with Daddy's credit card, there's going to be an ongoing question about which club owns New York.

    Yes, it's possible that Smith has already forgotten his back-and-forth exchange with Pierce (short-term memory issues are tough), but I'm willing to bet that Pierce will remember.

    And, let's also keep in mind that Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett combined to create one of last season's most iconic standoffs. Now that KG is in closer geographic proximity to 'Melo and the Knicks, maybe he'll find new and exciting ways to instigate trouble.

    The players on these teams have hated each other for a while, but this one somehow still feels fresh.

David Lee vs. Blake Griffin

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    Here, we've got a nice combination of past history and the potential for future clashes.

    Thanks to some good camera work during a Nov. 4 contest between the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, the world got a perfect slow-motion replay of David Lee screaming "Stop flopping!" at Blake Griffin. It's hard to fault Lee for that one; we were all thinking the same thing.

    This rivalry started as a little squabbling between power forwards, but it's going to get an extra jolt as both the Warriors and Clippers try to assert their dominance in the Pacific Division. These teams will meet four times this season, and it's not far-fetched to assume they'll also do battle in the playoffs.

    With so many dates on the schedule, Lee and Griffin are going to get to know one another very well. Expect Griffin to pound at least a few angry dunks on Lee's head, but also be prepared to watch Lee go to work on Griffin with his wide array of post moves.

    Rivalry points (which is something I just made up) will be deducted for flopping.

Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers

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    Anyone who watched the Oct. 5 preseason matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls came away with two key pieces of information.

    First, Derrick Rose is the same as he ever was, which is to say "awesome."

    Second, the Pacers and Bulls don't seem to like each other very much.

    Things never got chippy during the preseason tilt, but it was abundantly clear that both clubs wanted the win badly. The intensity was high, players were going full-tilt and neither side wanted to show any weakness.

    That's probably because they each know that they'll be fighting all season to chase down the Miami Heat.

    Blue-collar through and through, these two Central Division foes are startlingly similar. Both are defense-first outfits, both feature young superstars and both have championship dreams. In short, they're the future of the Eastern Conference.

    Get ready for a war.

Dwyane Wade vs. the World

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    This one's been brewing for a while, but it's time to make it official: Dwyane Wade is sick to death of doubters, and he's ready to take on the world.

    Whether that's an inspiring story or merely the tale of a cranky player uncomfortable with his own decline doesn't really matter. The point is that Wade has adopted a defiant attitude this year that feels positively Jordan-esque.

    Unlike Jordan, though, Wade hasn't had to create imaginary critics in an effort to motivate himself. His naysayers are very real.

    First, there were the critics who piled on during the 2012-13 postseason as Wade struggled with knee injuries. Then Kevin Durant chimed in, saying he'd rate James Harden ahead of Wade as a shooting guard.

    Miffed, D-Wade posted a note on his Instagram account that indicated he was ready to prove both pundits and peers wrong.

    Full disclosure: It's hard to know whether the Wade-Durant feud is anything more than a publicity stunt. But, there's no getting around the fact that Wade is facing more doubters than ever, and he's not happy about being written off as an elite player.

    In what could be the final season of the Big Three era in Miami, Wade is coming out swinging.