The NBA is known for high octane fast breaks, culminating in showtime blocks and dunks, to go along with championship performances and thrilling finishes, but inside all of that, there are a ton of smaller rivalries. Yes, there are the ones that everyone is familiar with like the Battle of Los Angeles: Clippers versus Lakers, but I’m talking about rivalries that are even deeper, ingrained into the blood and sweat of each competitor on the floor.
Here are my most interesting player rivalries in the NBA:
1.Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook: This is the most obvious feud in the league right now, which began when Durant decided to leave his partner in crime for a better chance to win a ring with the Golden State Warriors. While they both (usually) avoid speaking directly about one another, their angst was obvious in Durant’s first game against his former team. K.D. averaged 37.7 points in three wins last year, to Westbrook’s ridiculous 27-9-9 statline. While Durant earned his first championship (and Finals MVP), Westbrook named NBA MVP.
2. Lebron James vs. Kevin Durant: These two studs are widely regarded as the two best players in the NBA right now, and we’ve been treated to a pair of NBA Finals matchups with them going head-to-head. In 2012, James’ Miami Heat team got the best of Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, Durant and the Warriors were able to return the favor in a similar five-game series. For now, King James has the upper hand with four MVP awards and a trio of rings, but Durant seems to be graining some ground in recent years.
3. Kyrie Irving vs. Lebron James: After appearing in the NBA Finals three consecutive years side by side, Irving thought it’d be best to go a separate way from James over the summer when he decided to request a trade from the Cavaliers. After a ton of speculation, Uncle Drew was dealt to the Boston Celtics, where he has flourished in 16 games, helping the Celtics to a league-best 14-2 record. On opening night, though, it was Lebron’s team who came out on top, winning 102-99, as Lebron outscored Irving 29-22.
4. Russell Westbrook vs. Stephen Curry: It’s difficult to know who truly wins this battle because Curry’s team almost always seems to come out on top, but Westbrook will usually finish with a more attractive box score. We’ll have to wait and see when these two teams face off for the first time since the Thunder acquired NBA All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, as they’ll meet next Wednesday, November 22. Curry is averaging 24.0 points per game this year to Westbrook’s 20.3 points, but the latter is dishing out 9.6 assists.
5. James Harden vs. Stephen Curry: This rivalry dates back to the 2014-15 season, as they finished first and second in the NBA MVP race, with Curry coming out on top, earning his first of back-to-back trophies. A lot of people believe Harden was snubbed. It seems he may be on a mission this year to grab his first award, as he’s putting up incredible numbers with 31.8 points and 10.1 assists per night, leading the team to a 12-4 record, one game above Curry’s Warriors in the Western Conference standings.
6. Lebron James vs. Draymond Green: Both of these guys seem to get into a brand new rivalry with just about anyone they’re facing at the time (See: James and Enes Kanter or Green and Bradley Beal), because of their high level of competition, which came to fruition when they got into a scuffle in Game 4 of the 2016 Finals, as James disrespectfully stepped over Green. Lebron and the Cavaliers got the last laugh that season, winning three straight games to win the title, but Green and the Warriors got a little taste of revenge in 2017.
7. Chris Paul vs. Damian Lillard: Both of these point guards aren’t as talked about as some of the other high caliber guys, like Curry and Westbrook, but it’s not for lack of talent or production. Paul and Lillard are regulars in the NBA Playoffs, and we saw them go right at one another in 2015-16, prior to CP3’s season-ending injury. Before he went down, the Los Angeles Clippers grabbed a 2-0 series lead, but Dame D.O.L.L.A. and the Trailblazers ran off four straight, ending in a 106-103 victory, as Lillard notched 28 points and seven assists. Now that Paul is on the Rockets, hopefully we’ll see this postseason matchup.
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Kristaps Porzingis: As far as I know, Antetokounmpo and Porzingis don’t have a public rivalry, as they both seem like pretty mild-mannered athletes, but their conflict comes from their uniqueness. They are each extremely long and have ball-handling skills, which was why Antetokounmpo is known as the Greek Freak and Porzingis was dubbed a Unicorn, because their abilities seem to defy their build and height. When the two matched up this season,
9. Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving: Just like the Draymond and Lebron beef, this one fuels from the past three years, as these two superior point guards have gone directly at each other for the better part of the last few NBA Finals. Curry and the Warriors won it all in 2014-15, but Irving was injured in Game 1 and missed the remainder of the season. Then in 2015-16, Kyrie hit the game-winning three-pointer over Chef Curry in Game 7 to knock off the 73-9 Warriors. And then in the 2016-17 regular season, Irving once again toppled Curry’s team on a Christmas Day game-winner, but at the end of the year, the Durant-led Warriors would fair too much for Cleveland.
10. Joel Embiid vs. Karl-Anthony Towns: There are some rivalries that aren’t equal to others, as previously mentioned in Antetokounmpo versus Porzingis, and this one fits the same bill. These two youngsters haven’t been in any altercations, but they are expected to be the faces of their respective franchises for years to come, and given that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers are two of the teams of the future, we could see Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns go at it for years to come. And if we’re lucky, we’ll see a lot more plays like this one.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated.