NBA rivalries are like fashion trends. What's hot today may not be "in" tomorrow and what once "was" can easily turn into what's "now."
The most recent NBA rivalry involved Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Historically, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry is known to be the "best" and we may very well get to see those two teams matchup in the bubble over in Orlando.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though.
There is at least one rivalry that has been under the radar and only the most astute NBA fans are aware of all the layers. It involves the aforementioned Lakers and the Houston Rockets. The playoff matchups between these two teams are like a vintage pair of sneakers. They only come out once in a blue moon, but when it happens, it's special.
The tension between these two teams can be traced back nearly 40 years ago when Magic Johnson and company were knocked out of the first round of the 1981 NBA Playoffs by Calvin Murphy and Moses Malone. Houston spoiled the Lakers' chances of repeating but eventually lost steam as they fell to Larry Bird and the Celtics.
Flash forward 5 years and the two teams were back at it again. Houston again ended the Lakers hope of winning back-to-back titles as Ralph Sampson hit one of the most memorable buzzer-beaters in playoff history. Sorry, Kawhi.
Houston went on to lose to Boston once more but remained a thorn to the Lakers' dynasty. For perspective, the Lakers got to the Finals 8 out of the 10 years in the 1980s. The two years they didn't? Houston beat them.
The Lakers eventually took care of business against the Rockets, and the rest of the league for that matter, as they won consecutive titles and advanced to three straight Finals between 1987 and 1989. The Lakers also defeated Houston in the 1991 NBA Playoffs en route to Johnson's last Finals appearance. Houston collapsed and things got so bad that Hakeem Olajuwon began to be rumored in trade talks.
The teams didn't meet in the playoffs again until 1996. Houston was coming off back-to-back titles of their own and handed Magic his final playoff loss and essentially ended his career as a player.
Just like an ugly sweater that comes out for the holiday season, the two teams appeared in another memorable series three years later. This time the Lakers - reloaded with Kobe and Shaq -- exacted revenge against the "Superteam" in Houston that featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen. The series loss caused Pippen to lash out against his teammates, namely Barkley, and contributed to him being traded to Portland.
The two teams avoided one another for a while as the Lakers went on another title-winning spree while the Rockets rebuilt their roster. When they did meet, Kobe was a star on the proverbial runway, delivering one of his most posterizing dunks over Yao Ming.
The Rockets looked to play spoiler in 2009 and came within a game of ending the Lakers' championship season. Houston was short-handed as Tracy McGrady was sidelined and Yao Ming suffered an injury in Game 1 of the series. The All-Star formally named Ron Artest, who had a distinct style of his own, was instrumental and did not back down against Bryant.
In the end, the Rockets were unable to keep up with Los Angeles and Artest left Houston to join LA where he won his only NBA title.
A few years later, Houston proceeded to lure Lakers big man Dwight Howard and Kobe made sure to treat his former teammate like an old t-shirt that should have been thrown out years ago.
Now the rivalry takes a new turn as James Harden and Russell Westbrook matchup against LeBron and Anthony Davis. A series win for Houston may very well put them in the driver seat to take the Larry O'Brien trophy home this season. A loss will mean another offseason full of criticism of the fashion-forward style of "small ball" that H-Town has embraced.
On paper, history favors the Lake Show. The Lakers have 16 NBA Championships to Houston's two. The Rockets two titles are also considered to contain an asterisk since Michael Jordan was primarily focused on baseball those years. Critics ignore that Jordan participated in the 1995 NBA Playoffs and even dropped 55 at MSG that year.
Nonetheless, Houston has a chance to secure its place as a legitimize title threat and take down the league's most iconic player in LeBron James. Harden's style of play may actually gain praise if he fills up the stat sheet and most importantly, win the series. Mike D'Antoni could prove the doubters wrong and demonstrate his quick offense can beat a rugged defense. Or the Lakers simply win.
The Rockets' future is uncertain. D'Antoni's contract is up after this season and there is already speculation that Harden and Westbrook are not complementary players that can win together.
Just like fashion, this rivalry comes and goes. It will be renewed when the two teams take on each other for Game 1. The Lakers are favorites and have been waiting for this matchup for the past few days so of course, Houston had to keep them on their toes. Let's just say the Rockets were fashionably late but all fans should be on-time for what will certainly be a matchup for the books.
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