24 Jan

Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic meet again, Lakers try for 3-0 vs. Clips

For the second-straight season the NBA is billing a handful of upcoming games this week as NBA Rivals Week where teams with some sort of history or intriguing matchup will take center stage to highlight the various storylines and past drama between franchises and players. The rivalries range from classics, like the Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks, to budding ones, either between teams or players.

Rivals Week runs from Jan. 23 through Jan. 27 with 11 games highlighting these matchups, all of which will be nationally televised. It’s an interesting wrinkle to add to the NBA calendar in an effort to add some entertainment to regular season games, and while there may no longer be true rivalries like we saw in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, some of these matchups do bring a bit more to the table than others. As the league gets set to celebrate some old and new rivalries it only makes sense to take a look at the games and see which ones stand out amongst the rest. With that being said, here’s a look at the top five matchups taking place during Rivals Week.

  1. Denver Nuggets vs. Philadelphia 76ers
    Date: Saturday, Jan. 27 | Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
    Location: Ball Arena — Denver
    TV channel: ABC | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
    If the last meeting between these two teams is any indication of what to expect for Round 2, then this might end up being the best matchup of the week. We’ve got two guys who have won the last three MVP’s and one of them could potentially walk away with the award again this year, too. Earlier this month, when Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic faced off, it resulted in Embiid taking over in the fourth quarter to carry the Sixers to a win. He put up 41 points for the second-straight game which was also on the second night of a back-to-back. It also extended his streak of dropping 30+ points to 18 games, a streak he’s since extended to 20.

Embiid and the Sixers got the win, but Jokic also showed out for the Nuggets, putting up 25 points and 19 rebounds in a duel that pit the top two big men against each other. And after it was all said and done, Embiid said Jokic was the best player in the league, tipping his cap to the two-time MVP. The only thing keeping this matchup from reaching its full potential is if one of Embiid or Jokic doesn’t play. Embiid would be the bigger concern as he hasn’t played in Denver in each of the last three years due to injuries. There’s no reason to expect him to sit as of right now, especially as he told Jokic after their first game, “I’ll see you in two weeks.” So let’s all hope both stars can stay healthy so we can get another dose of this exciting rivalry.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
    Date: Tuesday, Jan. 23 | Time: 10 p.m. ET
    Location: Crypto.com Arena — Los Angeles
    TV channel: TNT
    The co-tenants of Crypto.com Arena are an obvious choice for this list, and it should shape up to be an entertaining matchup. The stars are there on both sides, and for the Clippers, injuries haven’t hit this season like they have in the past, so Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be ready to go. And while the Lakers have struggled since winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament, going just 7-13 since hoisting up that trophy in Las Vegas, you can always count on LeBron James and Anthony Davis to put on a show.

The Lakers already hold a 2-0 advantage against the Clippers this season, and both games came down to the wire with the first needing overtime to be decided and the second match coming down to the final shot for the Lakers to edge out a three-point win. Despite the Clippers being winless against the Lakers this season, they’ve been nearly unstoppable since Jan. 1 against everyone else, holding the league’s top offense while posting an 8-2 record, the second-best mark during that span. But even with all that recent success, the Lakers seem to be the Clippers kryptonite this season, which should make for an exciting game when these two face off during Rivals Week.

  1. Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns
    Date: Wednesday, Jan. 24 | Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
    Location: American Airlines Center — Dallas
    TV channel: ABC | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
    You can trace this rivalry back to the 2022 playoffs when the Mavericks dismantled the top-seeded Suns in the second round in shocking fashion. In every meeting that’s followed there always seems to be some tension on both sides, and the star plays on both teams — Luka Doncic and Devin Booker — certainly play up to that. Doncic and Booker are some of the most competitive players in the league, and neither shy away from talking trash, so when they face each other you can always bet on some words being exchanged during the game. But despite the trash talking both players have shared their mutual respect for each other, despite how heated and competitive they can get during the game.

Doncic and Booker’s competitive nature alone would make this a worthwhile matchup, but when you also factor in that this matchup features Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal then it’s must-watch television. The Suns and Mavericks are also only separated by just a half-game in the West standings, adding extra motivation to this game. There’s also the fact that the last time these two teams suited up opposite each other, Doncic dropped 50 points on the Suns in their arena on Christmas in a win without Irving. Basically any way you spin it, this is one of those matchups worth watching.

  1. San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
    Date: Wednesday, Jan. 24 | Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
    Location: Frost Bank Center — San Antonio
    TV channel: ESPN | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
    The Spurs likely won’t be competitive in this game, but the matchup worth watching is Victor Wembanyama vs. Chet Holmgren, the two favorites to win Rookie of the Year. When you hold their stats up next to each other they’re almost mirrors but how they’re getting there is vastly different. Wembanyama is at the center of the Spurs’ offense, and he gets over four more shot attempts per game than Holmgren. But while the OKC rookie isn’t the No. 1 option on his team, Holmgren’s already become a crucial piece to the Thunder’s success. His scoring, playmaking and rim protection have all been part of why the Thunder hold the No. 2 seed in the West standings.

This will be the second time we get Wemby vs. Holmgren this season, and hopefully the second time will live up to the expectation a bit better. In the first meeting between these rookies neither really had a standout performance, reminding us that they’re both just getting their feet wet. But with over half the season under their belts, this time around should be different.

  1. Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
    Date: Thursday, Jan. 25 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
    Location: Kaseya Center — Miami
    TV channel: TNT
    This is a rematch of the 2023 Eastern Conference finals, and with the way that ended — the Celtics falling behind 0-3 then storming back to push it to a Game 7 only to lose — has likely fueled Boston in what’s been a dominant season thus far. But last season’s conference finals isn’t the only thing that makes this a rivalry. The Celtics and Heat have faced each other in three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, so there’s familiarity between the two sides. And even though the Heat haven’t made a ton of noise this season — hovering around the No. 6 spot and the play-in tournament — we know from history that Miami always brings it in big games.

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