The Lakers and Nets are what the NBA needs right now.
Throughout the history of the NBA, there have been some incredible team rivalries, as well as individual ones. The most obvious rivalry is the one between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, who throughout each era of the NBA, have had a special disdain for one another. From the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson era to the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol Vs. Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen days, the Lakers and Celtics have always had some incredible matchups. Other big NBA rivalries include the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, as well as the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The through-line for all of these rivalries is the fact that each of these teams had to play each other if they wanted to win the championship. In terms of the Bulls-Pistons rivalry, it took Michael Jordan numerous times before he broke through and made his way to an NBA Finals, where he eventually won six titles. The Warriors and Cavaliers played each other in the Finals four years in a row and while the Warriors came out on top 3-1, there was no denying that each series featured some incredible basketball.
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Since LeBron's exodus to Los Angeles, the NBA and its fans have been anticipating the next great league rivalry. When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George signed to the Los Angeles Clippers, many felt like the Lakers and the Clippers were the perfect candidate for a new epic rivalry. Throughout the regular season, this prophecy was shaping up to be true but when the Clippers faltered in the playoffs, the "Battle of LA" narrative died down incredibly fast. While the Clippers remain contenders for the NBA title, it feels like fans have already forgotten about the "Battle of LA" and that moving forward, there is nothing the Clippers can do to take Los Angeles away from the purple and gold.
Now, fans are looking for something new, and it appears as though they've found it. This season, the NBA was waiting to see how Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would play together on the Nets. For the most part, their union seemed to be quite fruitful although the addition of James Harden sent things into overdrive. During these last few weeks, the Nets have displayed some blistering offense, all while their defense has steadily improved with each passing game. When you look at the Nets roster, you immediately see players who have a lengthy history with LeBron James. For instance, Kyrie played with LeBron in Cleveland, and it was clear the two had some tension as Irving was angling to become a superstar somewhere else. Since that time, Kyrie has thrown shots at LeBron's ability to be clutch, which surprisingly, LeBron addressed as hurtful. Meanwhile, KD also has his history with LeBron as they faced each other in the NBA Finals, two years in a row. As LeBron has gotten older, there have been debates about whether or not KD really is a better player than LeBron, which has ultimately led to some incredible showdowns. While James Harden isn't as connected to LeBron, he is still a former MVP who has a chip on his shoulder given the fact that he and Durant lost to LeBron's Heat all the way back in 2012.
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All of these storylines help build the foundation for an incredibly strong rivalry. Sure, the Lakers and Clippers are both situated in Los Angeles, but there is no real history for these teams to hate each other. When it comes to the Lakers and the Nets, this is the complete opposite. On one hand, you have a team with LeBron and Anthony Davis, who want to prove that they are one of the best duos to ever do it. James has four titles to his name, and if he gets a fifth, he will be on the same level as Kobe Bryant. As for AD, if he gets a second title, he will be taken more seriously as a top-five player in the NBA, when healthy. On the other hand, KD has been dealing with claims that his titles with the Golden State Warriors were illegitimate. If he wins one with the Nets, those doubts about Durant as a champion will be erased. The very same things can be said of Kyrie and Harden, who have yet to win championships on the backs of their own superstardom. All of this context lends itself perfectly to what can only be described as a bitter rivalry that will have every single player motivated to achieve something great.
Of course, this rivalry can only truly materialize if both teams make it to the NBA Finals this season, which is certainly in the cards. On Thursday night, the Lakers and Nets had their first matchup of the season against each other, and the Nets ultimately won, 109-98. Unfortunately, this game was not a true indicator of this upcoming rivalry, as Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis were injured. Without these two in their respective lineups, the game simply wasn't as competitive as it could have been. Regardless, LeBron and Kyrie were especially cold to one another, and it made for some great drama and fodder on social media. Not to mention, Kyrie was throwing shots at LeBron all game, which is great foreshadowing for a potential NBA Finals matchup.
Harden, Kyrie, and Durant are shaping up to be a trio that will be together for at least three seasons, including 2021. As for LeBron and Davis, they are locked in with the Lakers long-term, which means this Lakers Vs. Nets rivalry could go on for years. The makings of a classic rivalry is one that lasts for a long time, and the Lakers and Nets are already putting these wheels into motion. While it's impossible to predict what will happen between these two, it's clear that Nets-Lakers is already a lot stronger than Lakers-Clippers and with five future Hall Of Famers split amongst two teams, fans are in for a real treat.