Along with the release of the complete schedule for the ‘22-’23 regular season, the NBA also announced 11 hand-picked matchups to be played from January 24 to 28 in what the league is calling “Rivals Week”.
Notably absent from this slate of games is the NBA Finals rematch showcasing the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics. Their two meetings will have already taken place by the time Rivals Week rolls in at the end of January.
The NBA only has one true historic rivalry in its relatively young existence, that involving the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, and it is no surprise that these two teams will be facing off during this window.
The rest of the slated contests are relatively new rivalries that the league hopes will grow even deeper in the coming years. These have been segregated into five groups below according to the roots of their shared past.
Rooted in History: Lakers-Celtics
These two franchises have won 17 NBA titles apiece throughout the league’s 75-year history which underscores how important they have been to its story. They have met 12 times in the NBA Finals, with the first coming in 1959 and the most recent in 2010 where Kobe Bryant led the Lakers past the Celtics in seven games.
Though the animosity among these two teams has died down since the end of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era, their rivalry will forever be culturally ingrained into the NBA as it helped the league emerge into prominence during the 1980s.
Geographic Foes: New York Knicks/Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers-Lakers
The league has been trying to make these geographic rivalries between Los Angeles’ two teams and the pair of New York City squads a thing for many years now to no avail. The Lakers-Clippers crosstown rivalry is promising given that both groups will head into this season led by recognizable superstars, but it might take a seven-game playoff series to spark any real hostility.
Meanwhile, the instability of the Knicks and now the Nets as well has made it difficult for them to form meaningful acrimony with one another through the years. The loyalty of New York’s fanbase to the Knicks, who have been in the NBA since day one, has also made it difficult for Brooklyn to gain a strong following.
More Recent Rivalries: Nets/Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors/Golden State Warriors
The recent Nets-Sixers trade that saw James Harden and Ben Simmons swap places looms largely over this match-up. The less-than-ideal manner that their tenure with their previous employers ended adds fuel to the already heated fire among these two teams that have been vying for position near the top of the Eastern Conference during the past few seasons.
On the other hand, the Raptors and the Warriors may have met in the NBA Finals just three years ago, but the exodus of Kawhi Leonard following just one season in Toronto has diminished this rivalry. The Raptors have a promising young group, though, that traces its roots to their championship-winning team which should at least make this a tough contest for the reigning champions.
Playoff Rematches: Memphis Grizzlies/Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves/Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns/Dallas Mavericks, Celtics-Miami Heat
Golden State will face off with the Grizzlies, who have not stopped trash-talking the Warriors despite being eliminated by them in the second round of last year’s postseason. This could be a battle of this coming season’s top two Western Conference teams which makes it one of the highlights of the league’s new gimmick.
Memphis will also battle the new-look Timberwolves whom they eliminated in an entertaining first round series prior to their meeting with Golden State.
In another Western Conference playoff rematch, the Suns will get a chance to somewhat avenge their embarrassing Game 7 loss in the Western Conference Semifinals a few months ago to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Boston will take on Miami in a rematch of their classic Eastern Conference Finals battle that was literally decided by a few inches at the final buzzer.
Player Match-ups: Nikola Jokic/Joel Embiid, Lonzo Ball/LaMelo Ball
Jokic and Embiid were the two frontrunners in last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player race and figure to be in the conversation again this year. The two transcendent big men are among the league’s biggest stars today and always seem to bring their best when facing off with one another.
Although Jokic won last year’s MVP plum for the second consecutive year, it is likely that the 28-year-old Embiid will also win one of his own down the road given how dominant he has become as his game continues to grow.
Lastly, the league has scheduled the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets to meet during rivalry week to capitalize on the popularity of brothers Lonzo and LaMelo Ball who are their respective starting point guards. While this is the weakest rivalry in terms of NBA significance, the appealing style of play that these two siblings bring to the table always makes for an entertaining contest.