The Los Angeles Lakers, a well-known NBA team, has qualified for the NBA playoffs many times since 1979.
They have received numerous NBA awards throughout their history, including championships in 2000-2002 and NBA finals MVPs in 2009 and 2010.

Los Angeles won during the 2010-2011 season when they defeated the brand new Jersey Nets 4-1 in the finals and the most recent in 2020 when they defeated Miami Heat. This win marked the 17th NBA championship for this Los Angeles-based franchise.

Few teams have been as iconic and dominant. The NBA has a rich history of legendary players that have played for this team, including Kobe Bryant. The NBA season is long and grueling, with each team playing 82 regular-season games before entering into post-season play, and a Lakers’ game is always something to look forward to. They are one of the most successful teams in NBA history, but along with that success have come many rivalries and enemies over the years, both on and off the court. 

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The Lakers’ Rivals on the East and West Coast

Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference in the NBA is usually considered to be one of the most tightly matched conferences. This is due to the fact that all of the teams have been relatively evenly matched, with a few exceptions, since the new millennium.

Photo: ClutchPoints

The Eastern Conference has produced a number of strong basketball teams throughout history. These include the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics. There are a few weak teams within this conference as well, including the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets.

One particularly interesting rivalry in the NBA’s Eastern Conference was between the Miami Heat and Bulls from 2011-2014. In these four seasons, these NBA teams had met every year in either playoffs or finals matches. This resulted in two NBA championships for each team from 2011-2013, respectively.

But back to the rivalry in hand, there are many teams on the East Coast that have had to play against the Lakers. Here are a few of the most iconic ones:

  • Boston Celtics

The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers has been one of America’s most storied sports rivalries. They have met each other in 12 NBA Finals games, with nine victories going to the Celtics, while Laker fans will always point out that it was their own team who won two more times than they lost.

  • Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers have a rivalry that can be described as career-defining as these games between two teams have a reputation to be quite brassy. There was only one final game between the two, but the Lakers’ game series against the Bulls during the 1980s to 1990s are considered iconic at best.

  • Miami Heat

The Miami Heat and Lakers’ rivalry grew after Shaquille O’Neal was moved to Miami, trading the basketball pro for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Briant grant. The two teams crossed paths for three seasons, but Miami eventually took home the championship in 2006. The rivalry is centered around LeBron James’ Big Three and Kobe Bryant’s Core Four.

Western Conference

The West Coast houses strong and competitive teams that have faced the Lakers on many occasions. The Los Angeles Clippers has often been brought up in the discussion, standing in the shadow the Lakers cast over the team from the same city. The L.A Clippers have not won against the Lakers since 2009. Whereas, in this same period of time, the Lakers managed to win five consecutive times against them. The Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs also have their own experience battling the team on the court and even gaining some victories against the Lakers here and there.

But how did these teams fare under the limelight of the NBA? Their history could define their standing against the Lakers and if they are worthy of being called the team’s biggest rival.

  • Los Angeles Clippers

Though one-sided for years, the rivalry between the LA Clippers and Lakers is prevalent now more than ever. The rivalry took a bad turn after a failed trade which would have sent Chris Paul from L.A.’s crosstown rival, and such moves backfired instead. It’s now known as “The Hallway Series” because of how appealing these two teams appear on camera during interviews or photoshoots outside their respective locker rooms following games against each other.

  • Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets was the only Western Conference team from 1980 to 1989 to reach the NBA Finals, making the Rockets a predecessor to the Lakers’ legacy. To reach this, the Rockets had had to face off with the Lakers, with the former taking home the trophy for each game. Despite this constant defeat from the Rockets, the Lakers still have a higher win rate in regular-season games, playoffs, and championships.

  • San Antonio Spurs

The Lakers’ rivalry with the San Antonio Spurs treads on the lighter side as there is no obvious animosity between the two teams. In fact, their players, like Kobe Bryant for the Lakers and Greg Popovich for the Spurs, have openly expressed their respect for one another. The rivalry can be said to be professional, with both sides recognizing each other’s skills, but anything can always happen in a heated game of basketball. 

  • Dallas Mavericks

The Spurs/Lakers rivalry has lost much steam since Tim Duncan retired. However, the Mavs have stepped up to revive this battle. Their first meeting was in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals, which saw Dirk Nowitzki and company sweep L.A. en route to their lone Championship over Miami Heat. The two teams met again in 2011. This time, it was during the NBA Finals where Dirk & co., who were heavy underdogs, pushed the Lakers to seven games before finally bowing out.

Lakers’ True Rivals

As you can see from the list above, there are more than just two potential teams that could rival the Lakers’ prowess on the court. But who are their rivals exactly? With a glance at the NBA’s past, we can see that the NBA championships have been dominated by several teams throughout history. It is often said that it is The Boston Celtics or The Chicago Bulls that were their rivals in those days, but a closer look would say that there are a lot more teams out there–both in the East and West Coast–that have butt heads with the team. Some are mere passers-by, great teams with potential but not quite having the same fire that would spark a so-called “rivalry.” And then, there are those that are and have been on par with the Lakers’ might in basketball.

However, if we look at recent games and playoffs over the last decade, you will know that neither of those two NBA giants, the Bulls, and Celtics, were there when the Lakers played against their challengers from the San Antonio Spurs or Houston Rockets. It makes sense because The Boston Celtics announced they would rebuild until 2010 and would not be as powerful as before. And during this NBA period, the Lakers nation witnessed numerous championships won by teams other than The Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics.

So are the Lakers’ rivals on the East Coast? No. It’s not clear who their rivals are in the West either. Even though they play in Staples Center, The Los Angeles Clippers are usually considered as the NBA rivals of the Lakers too. The reason for that is simple: the Lakers nation wants to see a Los Angeles team winning against another Los Angeles team.

The question can easily be answered then. The only true rivals of the Lakers team are the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets since the 1999-2000 NBA season because these two basketball teams have qualified for playoffs every year until now. There were championships won by the Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2000, 2001, and 2002 NBA finals. And NBA trophies came back to Rockets after both teams’ confrontation in the conference semifinals in the 2009 playoffs (Lakers lost 2-4).

Many NBA experts would agree that it is the rivalries between Kobe Bryant playing for LA Lakers and Tim Duncan or Tracy McGrady, who played for Spurs, or Yao Ming who played for Houston Rockets that have made these teams so close to each other. These three players have been acknowledged as the best players of their era, especially since Bryant has been a top player dominating at his position during the last decade.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, we can say that the Lakers’ NBA rivals are on the West Coast because the finals have been dominated by The Los Angeles Lakers against either San Antonio Spurs or Houston Rockets nine times since the 1979 NBA season. Though the East Coast teams have proven themselves as powerhouses of their own league, none have the history and number of games that could equate to those from the West.

History has proven that fans are eager to see games where teams are competing for championships with their top players, not just regular matches between nameless rivals who don’t play each other very often. 

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Featured Image: ClutchPoints
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