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Glamour vs. Grit: The perfect NBA rivalry

 


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/ April 23, 2004

NBA fans love team rivalries. We love them so much that we even invent them. For instance, some would have you believe that Denver and Cleveland are rivals due to Lebron and Carmelo's personal rivalry. Nonsense. Denver versus Cleveland means nothing until both teams get good. Many have called Kings versus Lakers a rivalry. Again, nonsense. The Lakers knocked Sacramento out of the playoffs in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Hard to term it a rivalry when one of the parties doesn't draw blood.

But there is a bona fide rivalry in the NBA today - The San Antonio Spurs versus the Los Angeles Lakers. And if the Lakers can prevent the Rockets from winning four of the next five games, they are virtually guaranteed to meet the Spurs (who lead Memphis 3-0) for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.

An imaginative writer would have trouble crafting such a perfect rivalry, as these two teams stand in perfect contrast to each other. The Lakers are the team everyone wants to see. Shaq. Kobe. Payton. Malone. Their name power alone intimidated half the league this season. The Spurs are criticized as boring by the very network that carried their NBA Finals games last year. The Lakers head coach, Phil Jackson, is famous for his verbal jabs at the opposition. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich flies under the media radar as much as possible and only rears his head long enough to praise his opponents to the skies. The Lakers most famous fans include Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Dyan Cannon, to name a few; The Spurs most famous fans are a section of diehards who proudly call themselves Bums - as in, the Baseline Bums.

And lest we forget, this isn't just a rivalry of cities or of styles - it's a rivalry on the floor. Consider just how closely contested this rivalry is:

- These two teams have won the last five NBA titles - the Lakers three, the Spurs two.

- Since 1998, the Spurs and Lakers have played 23 regular season games - the Spurs won 12, the Lakers 11.

- Since 1998, the Spurs and Lakers have played 19 playoff games - the Lakers won 10, the Spurs won 9. Combining the regular season and playoff games, each team has won 21 games. In terms of playoff series, the Spurs have won two, the Lakers have won two. In every case, the winning team went on to win the NBA title.

This is about as even as a rivalry gets. A real NBA rivalry. And this one is the rubber match. To the winner, bragging rights forever. Unless these two teams go at it again next year.







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