nba

Grading the 2023 NBA Rivalry Week Matchups


Author: Ciara MountainsPublished: 01/24/23
NBA Rivalries

NBA Rivalries Week is finally here! Wait, you didn’t know about this? Somehow, I didn't either, even though I consume NBA content like it’s my job (it is). Anywho, if you haven’t been keeping up, the NBA has tagged this week’s slate of games as Rivalry Week: promising us hot ticket matchups full of positional opponents, postseason rematches, and franchise foes. 

In a league full of interesting storylines built around competition, this should be a literal and metaphorical slam dunk. With that in mind, let's rate the games we have to look forward to based on the magnitude of the matchup.

Tuesday, January 24

Boston Celtics at Miami Heat: 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Grade: B-

Immediately, I’m scratching my head. The NBA is pushing this as a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, which is neat, I guess. Is there really a rivalry there, though? Boston currently sits at the top of the Eastern Conference, while Miami is back in 6th. Even the all-time record is lopsided, with the Celtics leading 92-67.

I’d say this is less of a rivalry and more of a solid Tuesday night matchup. To be fair, it should still be a fun game. The two teams are mostly injury free, the Celtics are on a tear this season, and the Heat have won 5 of their last 7. So let ‘em play! Who cares!

LA Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers: 10 p.m. ET, TNT

Grade: A-

Ok yeah! Here we go! The Clippers and Lakers definitely have history, (the way same siblings have a history of fighting over the top bunk in the room they’ve shared for too long). The Lakers have won big a million times and now find themselves in a weird purgatory below the teams with actual championship dreams yet above the teams driving the Wemby tank.

On the other hand, the Clippers have largely disappointed with every roster they’ve put together, but now finally seem to have the pieces to, like, do something this season? (I remain largely unconvinced of their “realness” but I digress). Anthony Davis and John Wall remain out, but if all the other stars come to play, we could have a fun game on our hands! It was smart of the NBA to make this a Lakers home game since Crypto.com arena is going to be packed with purple and gold anyways. 

Wednesday, January 25

Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers: 7:30 p.m. ET

Grade: C+

The NBA loses points here because before the trade deadline last year, I can’t imagine either of these teams or their fan bases considered the other a “rival.” In fact, I'd say we are dangerously close to losing the meaning of the word entirely. HOWEVER, this matchup is buoyed by the fact that these teams not only swapped rosters last season, they traded some of the most drama-bogged players in the league. Big bummer alert, though: Kevin Durant is out, and both Joel Embiid and James Harden are currently day-to-day. If Philly’s stars are in, we are looking at a fun game. If they’re sitting? Well, at least we can look forward to betting the over on the decibel level of Sixer fan’s boos. 

Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors: 10 p.m. ET

Grade: A

And just like that, I’m back in on Rivalry Week. This matchup has everything: an electric playoff series from last season, trash talk, old stars, up-and-coming stars, a weird beef between the fan bases on Twitter. The Grizzlies don't like that the Warriors don't respect them! The Warriors don’t like that the Grizzlies talk shit without the success to back it up! This is not a rivalry with a ton of history (the Warriors lead 32-24 in all time matchups) but the disdain between these two teams is hot and fresh and ready to be exploited by a themed week of games.

Thursday, January 26

Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets: 7:30 p.m. ET

Grade: D

Get absolutely so far out of my face with this! On their website, the NBA is billing this as a matchup between the Ball brothers. Tough look, Lonzo hasn’t played all season (and might not play at all this year) while LaMelo is currently day-to-day with ankle and wrist issues. The Bulls are underperforming again this season, and the Hornets are so deep in their tank that they’re threatening to hit the earth’s core. This is also being touted as a Michael Jordan vs Chicago game, as if chairman MJ has done anything more notable than smacking one of his players on the back of the head. I suppose if Lonzo and LaMelo were playing, this could be a fun sibling rivalry, but that wisp of wishful thinking is the only thing keeping this game from getting a big stinky F. 

UPDATE: The NBA has now removed this game from their Rivalries lineup in what I must assume is an attempt to save face. But we will not forget, we know the truth. Cowards.

Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns: 10 p.m. ET, TNT

Grade: B+

As long as the Suns have DeAndre Ayton and the Mavs have Luka Doncic, these two teams will be linked together in the annals of history. This connection was cemented last year when Dallas shocked the Suns in the Western Conference finals by winning Game 7 on the road. Remember the picture of Luka grinning up at Devin Booker like he just found out some embarrassing secret about the Suns star? Delish. Unfortunately for all of us, Booker remains sidelined with a groin injury, so we won’t get to see the two stars go head-to-head. The Suns are generally riddled with injuries, so the jury is out on whether this game will be very fun to watch, but I really like the idea of pushing the rivalry between these two teams.

Friday, January 27

Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV

Grade: B

Ok, hear me out. I think this could be a fun game. I love Ja Morant, I love Anthony Edwards. They are both young, explosive, big-personality players who can take over a game through sheer willpower. But are these teams rivals? Do they have each other pinned up on their inspo boards under “motivation?” I am not convinced! When pitching the game, the NBA couldn’t offer up much more context than: “these teams have good young players who are fun to watch.” I agree, but that isn’t enough to establish this matchup as a rivalry. They could get there, though, so I'm giving the NBA points for pushing it.

Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors: 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV

Grade: C

Approximately 200 basketball years ago, the Raptors bested the Warriors in the NBA finals to capture their first NBA championship. It prevented the Warriors from earning a 3-peat, it was Kevin Durant’s last game as a member of Dub Nation, it was the beginning of Klay Thompson’s harrowing injury journey, and it launched the Warriors into a couple of years of truly disgusting basketball. In turn, the Raptors faithful rightfully celebrated with the combined jubilation of an entire country. 

Then, Kawhi Leonard left. Klay eventually came back, and the Warriors went ahead and won another chip. Now, both teams are totally mid (at least as far as standings go). So, is this a rivalry? Meh. As a Warriors fan, I can’t conjure any strong feelings toward Toronto. At this point, I still hold more malice in my heart for like, the Cavs. I just don’t think there is enough fuel to the fire. 

Saturday, January 28

Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers: 3 p.m. ET, ABC

Grade: B (but maybe worse)

It’s big boy basketball time! Well, maybe. If everyone can get healthy, we are looking at a matchup of two of the most dominant post players in the league in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. At the time of writing this, both are currently listed as day-to-day with various injuries. Outside of those two though, I am not sure how much competitive energy really exists between these two teams. Even during the MVP race last year, both Jokic and Embiid expressed that they would be all right with the other winning the award. It’s giving less “rivalry” and more “respect.” If neither player is in for the game, well, what else is there that makes this a notable matchup?

New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets: 5:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Grade: C

This is a weird one. On paper, this should be a great rivalry just like the Lakers and Clippers. Unfortunately, the Knicks have been primarily an unserious basketball team for quite some time, and the Nets…..well they certainly have been interesting, haven't they? Even as they sit in 4th place in the East, I just can’t get excited about a team that feels like a black hole of energy. This seems less like a rivalry, and more like one bumbling team that people are obsessed with and one star-studded team that no one really cares about who happens to play near each other. This is a Nets home game, but what percentage of people in attendance will be Knicks fans? Feels like it could be a lot.

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics: 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Grade: A

The NBA is closing out Rivalry Week with ol’ reliable. Rabid fan bases, a million championships, and two cities that cannot stand each other have been fueling animosity between these two teams since the beginning of time. Both teams could be in last place, and their fans would still be ready to trade blows about who’s a better bottom feeder. No notes.

Matchups I would have liked to see instead: Warriors vs. Lakers, Blazers vs. Jazz, Kings vs. their doubters, me vs Kings doubters, Pistons vs. Rockets (Wemby tankathon), Bucks vs. anyone, Hawks vs. good team chemistry, the Suns vs. DeAndre Ayton


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