The NBA is filled with rivalries. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics are known as one of sports greatest rivalries. This NBA rivalry dates back to the beginning of the NBA with Bill Russell and Jerry West. However, today the bad blood between players is non-existent with those franchises. But around the NBA, there are plenty of players and teams who despise each other. Here are the top 5 NBA rivalries in the NBA today.
5. Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers
The Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers have played each other a total of 22 playoff series, the most between any two teams in the NBA. Although the Celtics have won most of those series (15), this NBA rivalry is still strong. Just in the recent 2023 playoffs, a great seven-game series unfolded, where Jayson Tatum put up the most points in a Game 7 ever, just after Stephen Curry did the same thing.
There hasn’t been much trash talk between the two teams as the Boston Celtics have constantly beaten the 76ers, but Jayson Tatum has mentioned the domination. In an interview with Kevin Hart who brings up Philadelphia as potential contenders to beat the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, Tatum questions if they are. Alongside that, he sends a message out to all 76ers fans: “Good luck next time.” Considering the Celtics have beaten the 76ers in every playoff series Tatum has been a part of, Philadelphia certainly needs that luck.
This rivalry dates back to the beginning of the NBA, similar to the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia and Bill Russel in Boston had multiple playoff series matchups against each other, but the 76ers were only able to win one out of four of those matchups. However, that one series win ended with the 76ers winning the championship. The NBA rivalry continues with Julius Erving and Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and Allen Iverson, and now today with Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum.
4. Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings
A much more recent NBA rivalry is between the Northern California teams of Sacramento and San Francisco. There was nothing to talk about between the two teams as the Sacramento Kings haven’t made it into the NBA playoffs in 16 years. This was one of the longest droughts in sports history and no end was in sight until two big changes: the hiring of Mike Brown as head coach and the trade for Domantas Sabonis. Once these two joined the Kings, the team had one of their best seasons as a franchise, earning them a three-seed in the Western Conference and a playoff berth. Only to have to play the Golden State Warriors, who have enjoyed a dynasty for the past decade.
This round 1 playoff series was a battle between the two teams. Each game was extremely competitive, with De’Aaron Fox and Stephen Curry going back and forth with their supporting cast. Game 2 specifically was a tough outing, where Sabonis’ chest was stomped on by Draymond Green, earning Green a suspension in Game 3. Ultimately, the Warriors squeaked out of the series in a Game 7 win where Stephen Curry put up 50 points. This was the most in a Game 7 until Jayson Tatum broke the record a few weeks later. This series brought the highest first and second-round playoff TV ratings for the NBA since 1999.
After a hard fought physical battle between Sabonis and Green, Sabonis left Game 7 without shaking hands with the Warriors, and Green called him out on his podcast:“Lost a lot of respect for Sabonis. You don’t shake guys’ hands after you lose? I don’t respect that. I once left the court when we lost in Game 7 [of the 2016 NBA Finals] to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I went to my locker and sat down and I said, ‘This don’t feel right.’ And I walked back out on the court and I showed everybody love. You lost. Deal with it. Pay your respect. That was wack to me. That’s wack. But I don’t respect that.”
A few days after opening night this season, the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors played each other again. The game felt just like the playoffs again, and even without Draymond Green, the Warriors won again. But with the Kings only improving with time with their young roster, this NBA rivalry is red hot.
3. Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers
This NBA rivalry began in the 2022 playoffs, where the 7th-seed Los Angeles Lakers made a Cinderella run to the Western Conference Finals. There was talk on how Anthony Davis could stop the dominant Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Additionally, the Denver Nuggets were constantly downplayed throughout the season and were not seen as championship contenders. After Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, where Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray hit some crazy shots to win, the media spoke on how the Lakers got a mentality win as they could’ve won without those ridiculous shots. This boiled with the Denver Nuggets team, especially their coach, Michael Malone.
After the Denver Nuggets won Game 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Michael Malone expressed his concern on the downplaying of his team in the postgame interview.“You win Game 1 of the playoffs and all everybody talked about was the Lakers. Let’s be honest, that was a national narrative, ‘Hey, the Lakers are fine. They’re down 1-0, but they figured something out.’ No one talked about Nikola [Jokic] just having a historic performance. He’s got 13 triple-doubles now, third all-time. What he’s doing is just incredible, but the narrative wasn’t about the Nuggets, the narrative wasn’t about Nikola, the narrative was about the Lakers and their adjustments. So, you put that in your pipe, you smoke it, and you come back. We’re gonna go up 2-0.”
Even after the Denver Nuggets won the NBA Finals and they celebrated in the streets of Denver on the championship parade, the Lakers are mentioned. Vic Lombardi, broadcaster for the Nuggets, introduces Michael Malone to the crowd as the “Lakers’ daddy.” After these comments, Darvin Ham was asked about Malone’s comments, in which he responded:“Oh wow, bring up ‘Money Mike’, the Lakers’ daddy, right? That’s what they call him now, the Lakers’ Daddy… God bless his soul. This shit ain’t over.”
Anthony Davis mentioned during the off-season that the trash talk had motivated them once they faced each other again. And although that motivation died in the season opener with a Nuggets win, this NBA rivalry is still alive.
2. LeBron James and Stephen Curry
Two players who have defined an era of the NBA, LeBron James and Stephen Curry have had their fair share of matchups against each other. Most recently in the 2023 playoffs, LeBron and the Lakers were able to beat the Warriors, partially due to LeBron’s experience against the Warriors and their plays. In Game 4, the Warriors ran a play that was done years before in another playoff series with LeBron. Once the play starts to roll, LeBron calls out the play, earning the Lakers a steal to seal the win.
The Four-Year Finals Matchup
This historic NBA rivalry began back in 2015 when the Warriors and Cavaliers met each other in the NBA Finals. However, with teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love injured, the Cavs lost to the Warriors in 6 games.
One year later, the two teams matched up again in the NBA Finals. The Warriors had the greatest season record in NBA history (73-9). This time around, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James putting up historic numbers, the Cavaliers became the first time in NBA Finals history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. This would be the Cavaliers’ first championship ever. LeBron won Finals MVP and fulfilled his promise to bring a championship home for Cleveland.
Next year, the two teams once again match up against one another in the NBA finals. LeBron’s supporting cast remains the same with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But on the other side, Stephen Curry now had Kevin Durant. With this super team, the Warriors made quick work of Cleveland in five games to win their second championship.
This domination continued into the following year, the fourth and final NBA finals meeting between the Warriors and Cavaliers. After a 10-point loss in overtime in Game 1, the Cavs never recovered and the Warriors swept them. The 2023 playoffs were their latest matchup against one another. But with LeBron nearing retirement, this NBA rivalry is soon to end sadly.
1. Luka Doncic and Devin Booker
These two have bad blood between each other. Luka Doncic and Devin Booker are two of the greatest guards in the NBA today, and they are extremely competitive. During the Western Conference Semifinals two seasons ago, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns played. The Mavericks had just beaten the Utah Jazz as the underdog, while the Phoenix Suns were the 1st seed.
After going down 0-2, the Mavericks were in the corner. Booker made sure to trash talk, which led to the viral quote of Luka saying “Everybody acts tough when they are up.” But with amazing team performances and some “Luka Magic,” the series went to Game 7. What proceeded at Game 7 was a complete blowout by the Mavericks.
Luka averaged 32.6/9.9/7 against the Phoenix Suns in that playoff series and rolled over to the Western Conference Finals with a smile on his face. Nothing eventful would occur until both teams added two talented players: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
During their first matchup against each other with their new teammates, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker ended the game in a scuffle. In the final seconds of the game, Booker begins to taunt Luka while the Suns are winning. Luka talks back, resulting in the two butting heads and laughing at each other while their teammates pull them apart and referee whistles flare.
In the post-game interview, Devin Booker was asked about the fight between the two All-Stars, in which he confirms the rivalry between them.“I’m not here to tattletale. You guys say you don’t want everybody to be friendly-friendly. There you go. We got some smoke. It’s just two competitors going at it. I have no problem with Luka on or off the court, but when we’re competing, we’re competing.”
Luka Doncic was asked the same question on what Devin Booker had to say in the final seconds of the game, but he couldn’t say.“I don’t think you can say it on camera. He was talking to me. It’s not for TV. I would get fined. It’s just a competitive game. Just next time don’t wait till there are three seconds left to talk.”
With the bad blood these two share at their young age, the rivalry between Devin Booker and Luka Doncic is easily the best in the Association.