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NBA Power Rankings 4.0: Rivalries renewed

It's time for the fourth iteration of the weekly bballdistrict Power Rankings! We'll count down each team from worst to best, check in on the state of each squad, and this week, in honor of the NBA's Rivals Week, we'll take a look at each franchise's current biggest rival. (Stay tuned every Sunday for brand new rankings and a new theme!)

REMEMBER: Today we're only looking at each teams biggest current rival, not historical rival. Of course, some clashes transcend time, keeping old rivalries relevant to this day, and we'll include those accordingly. But we all know our league history, so we'll mostly be thinking about teams that have bad blood now, or are likely to in the future. Some of our choices will be based on current beef, while others will be predictions, but either way, feel free to let us know in the comments if you disagree with your favorite team's rival!

30. Detroit Pistons (13-38) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Chicago Bulls

Photo by Johnny Fidelin/Icon Sport via Getty Images

One of the most famous rivalries in league history, nobody hated the Bulls like the Pistons did, and nobody hated the Pistons like the Bulls did. From Thomas and Laimbeer to Jordan and Pippen to Billups and Wallace, there's been no shortage of notable names involved in this rivalry. It's had its fair share of dormant periods as of late, but there's still a unique feel to the game each time these two teams meet.

29. Houston Rockets (12-38) (+1)

Biggest Rival: San Antonio Spurs

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Houston doesn't currently have much beef, largely due to their performance, but they're on a similar timeline to their intrastate foes, the Spurs, so there's potential for divisional rivalry to reignite there over the next few years if coach Stephen Silas can get things under control.

28. San Antonio Spurs (14-36) (-1)

Biggest Rival: Houston Rockets

Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Much like the Rockets, San Antonio doesn't have much of a heated competition with anyone at the moment, but if Keldon Johnson, Tre Jones, Jeremy Sochan, and company continue to develop as expected under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, they could create strong competition with Houston, bringing the I-10 rivalry back to relevancy.

27. Charlotte Hornets (14-36) (+2)

Biggest Rival: Orlando Magic

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Again, Charlotte isn't exactly a competitive team right now, nor do they have much of a history to find a rival in, so we're forced into another predictive pick. Orlando makes the most sense, as they'll match up with the Hornets four times per year as division rivals. Plus, both teams are looking to build young cores. It might not be much fun now, but LaMelo Ball vs Paolo Banchero could certainly be intriguing in a few years time.

26. Orlando Magic (19-31) (=)

Biggest Rival: Charlotte Hornets

Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

With the formidable collection of high-ceiling talent Orlando has collected, it wouldn't be shocking to see near the top of the league soon, likely with a few enemies. But for now, we'll stay in the division and double down on our Hornets/Magic pick. It could end up being a one-sided affair, but if Charlotte can speed up their rebuild just a little bit both teams should rise to prominence around the same time.

25. Chicago Bulls (23-26) (-7)

Biggest Rival: Detroit Pistons

Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

We covered the Bulls/Pistons rivalry earlier, but it's also worth mentioning that even with the Pistons being a bad young team, and Chicago a mediocre team on the downswing, their history still holds enough weight that the NBA deemed it worthy of being the matchup for the Paris Game.

24. Portland Trailblazers (23-25) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Los Angeles Lakers

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Portland has had playoff battles with a number of different Western Conference teams in recent history, but their rivalry with Los Angeles really boils down to the point guards. The Blazers' Damian Lillard sent current Laker Russell Westbrook's Thunder home on his iconic shot in a series that saw some discord between the two players. In addition, Lillard has an ongoing feud with other Lakers point guard Patrick Beverley. This dissension was renewed as recently as this week, with Beverley being given a technical for jawing at Lillard during a free throw, and later mocking his "Dame Time" celebration. This led Lillard to take to Twitter postgame, quote tweeting a clip of Beverley's postgame presser, calling the instigator "Con man. Flip from above the rim."

23. Los Angeles Lakers (23-27) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Boston Celtics

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Wilt vs Russell. Magic vs Bird. Kobe vs Pierce. Lebron vs Tatum. The list of incredible players to participate in the great Lakers vs Celtics rivalry could go on, but you get the point. One of the most storied rivalries in sports, there's nothing quite like watching the white and green take on the purple and gold. Whether it's in mid-October or mid-June, this legendary matchup always delivers.

22. Toronto Raptors (22-28) (+2)

Biggest Rival: Cleveland Cavaliers

Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Raptors and Cavaliers fans haven't gotten along ever since LeBron James turned Toronto into "LeBronto", and the friction hasn't slowed down much since then. These days, despite the Raptors disappointing season, they still have plenty of talent, and they've proved it by going 3-0 so far this season against a very good Cavs team. Assuming Toronto doesn't tear it all down, this should continue to be a competitive series of games for years to come.

21. Washington Wizards (23-26) (+4)

Biggest Rival: Boston Celtics

Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Floating around in mediocrity makes it tough to have enemies, but the one team Wizards faithful surely have bad memories of is the Celtics. This dates back to the 2nd round of the 2017 playoffs, featuring Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart against John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. It was a heated seven-game series that ended with a Boston win. Tensions were high throughout, with a Kelly Oubre Jr. vs Kelly Olynyk fight serving as the highlight, leaving Wizards fans with a bad taste in their mouth. Washington probably barely scrapes the top 10 on Boston's list of rivals, but the Celtics top the Wizards' hit list.

20. Indiana Pacers (24-27) (=)

Biggest Rival: Sacramento Kings

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Choosing a team in the opposite conference as a rival might be a bit of a reach, but much like the Wizards, Indiana hasn't had much conflict with anyone as of late. So, we'll go with the Kings, hoping that the Domantas Sabonis/Tyrese Haliburton trade can spark something between two franchises that could really use a rival on their own level. The good news is that this potential rivalry is much more likely than one might've expected coming into the season, as both teams are outperforming expectations, bringing some much needed excitement to both home arenas.


19. Phoenix Suns (26-25) (=)

Biggest Rival: Dallas Mavericks

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Everyone saw this one coming. With apologies to Suns fans for the PTSD, it's only right that we look back at the sparks that ignited a wildfire. Phoenix took a 3-2 lead in the 2022 Western Conference Semis, with Devin Booker taking a fall on a drive and calling it "The Luka Special." The Suns, known trash talkers, and then-defending champs of the West, seemed pretty confident in their ability to close out the series, and then... well, let's save the rest for later. (Spoiler Alert: The Mavs biggest rival is going to be the Suns.)

18. New Orleans Pelicans (26-24) (-9)

Biggest Rival: Phoenix Suns

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Mavericks aren't the only team that sparked a potential rivalry with Phoenix in the 2022 playoffs, though. The scrappy eighth seeded Pelicans pushed the top seeded Suns to six games, which could be considered the beginning of Phoenix's 2022 downfall. The series was highlighted by rookie Jose Alvarado - the epitome of scrappy - going toe to toe with Chris Paul, often getting under his skin. The surprisingly competitive six games may be looked back on as the start of a fiery rivalry, especially after the teams got into it again in December of this season when the Suns took offense to Zion Williamson throwing down a dunk in garbage time.

17. Dallas Mavericks (26-25) (-7)

Biggest Rival: Phoenix Suns

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

So, where were we? Oh, right, as Luka Doncic said after game five, "everybody acting tough when they up." He talked the talk, which is a risky game to play when you're losing a series, but not if you can back it up. And that's exactly what the Mavericks did. They proceeded to win their next two games by a combined total of 60 points, embarrassing the Suns. Thus, a rivalry was born.

16. Utah Jazz (26-26) (-1)

Biggest Rival: Oklahoma City Thunder

Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images

Utah is having a surprisingly respectable season after trading away both Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, and now has plenty of capital to quickly retool their team. While their reconstruction may not go quite as smoothly as Oklahoma City's, it would be fair to expect that the two will soon be contenders at the same time. This could be a highly anticipated divisional rivalry.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-25) (+2)

Biggest Rival: Utah Jazz

Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Timberwolves gave up Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, four 1st round picks, and a 1st round pick swap in exchange for Rudy Gobert. That trade has gone... less than swimmingly for Minnesota, so it's fair to wonder if it could cause the formation of a new contentious rivalry. Plus, it can't hurt that both teams are in the Northwest division, meaning they play four times per year, and so far, the most valuable piece moved from Minnesota to Salt Lake City appears to be Walker Kessler, who of course plays center. Look for heated debates about who the better center is, and for the intensity of these matchups to be consistently raised for the foreseeable future.

14. Los Angeles Clippers (28-24) (+9)

Biggest Rival: Los Angeles Lakers

Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the more one-sided ongoing rivalries in the NBA, the Battle of LA still brings the heat despite it's Lakers-dominant history. The Lakers have the better history and the more recent championship, while the Clippers have had more success in head-to-head matchups as of late. The rivalry is showing no signs of going anywhere anytime soon, as both teams have star power in the form of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook.

13. Atlanta Hawks (25-25) (+1)

Biggest Rival: New York Knicks

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The first round of the 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs instantly made Trae Young the most hated man in New York. Atlanta took care of business in five games, including winning two of the three games played at Madison Square Garden. Young embraced the villain role like few others in recent league history have, and he now draws thunderous boos with each trip he takes to MSG.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-25) (+4)

Biggest Rival: Orlando Magic

Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

It feels like only a matter of time before Sam Presti's complete tank job pays off with a finals appearance. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Magic are building one of the most respected young groups in the Association. Oklahoma City and Orlando appear to be on a collision course for at least one NBA Finals matchup, and not a single soul would be opposed to watching that. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, and Josh Giddey vs Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, and Jonathan Isaac? Yes please.

11. Golden State Warriors (25-24) (+1)

Biggest Rival: Cleveland Cavaliers

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Warriors in six. Cavaliers in seven. Warriors in five. Warriors in four. Golden State and Cleveland produced one of the most impressive displays of simultaneous dominance in NBA history, and certainly the greatest in recent history. The regular season series has been lopsided, with the Warriors winning every matchup since Christmas Day of 2016, but any basketball fan understands the nostalgia involved with watching the Cavs and Warriors on the same floor.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-21) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Golden State Warriors

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

We just touched on this now-iconic rivalry, and everything that makes it so, but it is worth considering that the matchup may have lost some of its shine in lieu of LeBron James' departure. Still, there are more than enough memories left from their four-year stretch of greatness to make this rivalry plenty relevant to this day.

9. New York Knicks (27-24) (+2)

Biggest Rival: Brooklyn Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

For one of the biggest brands in the NBA, the Knicks have a surprising lack of intense rivalries, but their games with the crosstown rival Nets are always highly anticipated. Both teams have been underwhelming for the better part of the past decade, but things are looking up, as they're both currently above .500 and in the playoff picture.

8. Miami Heat (28-22) (+5)

Biggest Rival: Boston Celtics

Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

This feud goes back to 2010, but most notably the 2011 and 2012 playoffs. The LeBron-led Heat took home both the 2011 semis and 2012 ECF over Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen's Celtics. Then, after nearly a decade, Miami and Boston finally met again in the playoffs, with the Heat once again coming out with the ECF victory. The Celtics finally broke through in 2022 to get an ECF win of their own. These are two of the best run franchises in the NBA, and they can always be expected to make the playoffs, so it's safe to say we'll be seeing another iteration of this playoff series soon.

7. Brooklyn Nets (30-19) (=)

Biggest Rival: Philadelphia 76ers

Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The first thing many NBA fans may think of regarding the 76ers and Nets is the Ben Simmons/James Harden trade, but this dissension goes back a little further than that. Remember the 2019 playoffs? If not, let's refresh your memory. The third seeded Sixers featured a fantastic starting five of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid. The sixth seeded Nets, on the other hand, were headlined by D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as Jared Dudley. Even in a series that only lasted five games, there was plenty of bad blood, particularly between Simmons and Dudley.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (31-18) (-3)

Biggest Rival: Golden State Warriors

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This beef starts with Andre Iguodala being traded from Golden State to Memphis after the 2019 season, and allegedly refusing to play for the Grizzlies, citing that he wanted to be with a contender. Iguodala says that he did not refuse to play, and that he and the Grizzlies mutually agreed to find him a new home. Whichever it was, Iguodala was traded to Miami at the deadline, and the Grizzlies made it known exactly how they felt about Iggy, who eventually made his way back to Golden State. Then the rivalry was renewed in 2022, when the Grizzlies' Jaren Jackson Jr tweeted the Warriors slogan, "strength in numbers," after a regular season victory over the Dubs. And boy, Klay Thompson did not forget about that. In his postgame presser after winning the NBA Finals, Thompson said of Jackson's tweet, "I can't wait to retweet that thing. Freakin' bum." It's safe to say these two teams don't like each other.

5. Sacramento Kings (27-21) (=)

Biggest Rival: Indiana Pacers

Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

As we mentioned when we talked about the Pacers earlier, neither of these teams has much antagonism with anyone, but their matchups should at least be interesting in light of Domantas Sabonis and Tyrese Haliburton swapping teams. This would be a fun one if it materializes.

4. Boston Celtics (36-15) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Los Angeles Lakers

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We told you that this matchup always delivers, and that's never been more true than this season. Even with Los Angeles floundering and Boston flourishing, their games couldn't have been closer. In their first game this year, the Celtics won a four point overtime thriller in Los Angeles. Then, on Saturday, the Celtics needed overtime again to pull out another four point victory, this time at home.

3. Denver Nuggets (34-16) (-2)

Biggest Rival: Miami Heat

Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

Two separate Denver players have beef with Miami, both involving hard fouls. The first actually doesn't involve the Nuggets or the Heat, but rather players who would later end up on those respective teams. In the bubble, Aaron Gordon, then on the Magic, was fouled hard by Kyle Lowry, then a Raptor, forcing Gordon to exit with an injury. Then, a few games later, Gordon got his revenge, delivering what would qualify as a blindside block in the NFL to Lowry. The next season, with Gordon now a Nugget, Nikola Jokic got into it in similar fashion with Markieff Morris of the Heat. Morris hit Jokic with a hard, debatably dirty foul, and Jokic responded by giving Morris a vicious forearm shiver as he turned his back, which ultimately sidelined Morris for four months with whiplash. While Morris is no longer with Miami, both teams cores have remained the same, and they undoubtedly remember everything that's gone down between them.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (32-17) (+4)

Biggest Rival: Philadelphia 76ers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There's plenty of history between Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 76ers. First, in 2019, Joel Embiid called himself "the most unstoppable player in the league." Giannis responded by leading his Bucks to a win over Philly and essentially saying that Embiid needed to humble up. Then, in 2020, Giannis made a snide comment during the All-Star draft about how James Harden doesn't pass. Shortly after that, Harden told ESPN's Rachel Nichols that Giannis just runs and dunks. And finally, there's the infamous ladder incident from this season, with Giannis knocking over a ladder and refusing to leave the court after a game in Philly, which 76ers players, especially Montrezl Harrell, were less than appreciative of. All this to say, there's plenty of bulletin board material when it's time for Milwaukee and Philly to face off.

1. Philadelphia 76ers (32-16) (+3)

Biggest Rival: Brooklyn Nets

Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Jared Dudley/Ben Simmons beef was certainly entertaining, the main draw to this rivalry right now is clearly Ben Simmons. The three-time Sixers All-Star went from being fiercely defended to public enemy number one in Philadelphia due to some head-scratching plays followed by a season long holdout. There's clearly no love lost between Simmons and Philly, making for a spectacle any time the two have crossed paths since their split.

That does it for this week's bballdistrict Power Rankings! Come back next week to see the updated rankings, risers and fallers, and check out our new weekly theme!

Disagree with our rival of choice for your team? Let us know in the comments below!


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