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A new era of NBA rivalries takes center stage on Christmas Day 2022

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While the NBA celebrated its 75th anniversary last season, this year marks the 75th year of NBA action on Christmas Day. And though the game has changed over the years, one thing certainly remains the same: the league is at its best when it is defined by rivalries.

The NBA has seen rivalries come and go in recent years, but this year’s Christmas Day schedule places a spotlight on a new era of rivalries that brings about nostalgic feelings from rivalries past.

While Luka Doncic ascends into generational superstardom, LeBron James begins to enter the twilight of his decades-long run as one of the NBA’s best. The similarities of their games and the mutual respect between the two generational talents are especially reminiscent of the bond between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, the epitome of the “idols become rivals” dynamic in the NBA.

There are also the rivalries that come with good-natured extracurriculars.

Until proven otherwise, the Warriors are still the defending champs. Among Golden State’s many challengers is a Memphis team that has the identity and attitude needed to dethrone the kings. And it’s hard not to see some of the Bad Boy Pistons in Ja Morant and company, who talk the talk and walk the walk, which is exactly what’s needed to take down Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

In the late 1980s, Detroit, led by an electric point guard in Isiah Thomas, leaned on its attitude and defined identity to end Boston’s dynasty and begin a mini-dynasty of its own. Maybe that’s what’s in the cards for Morant and Memphis.

Sometimes, one dynasty has to end for another to begin, but in some very rare cases, dynasties overlap.

From 1999 to 2014, one of the Spurs or Lakers represented the West in the NBA Finals 13 out of a possible 16 times, with two superstars in Bryant and Tim Duncan at the forefront for that entire period. The way things are shaping up in the East, Jayson Tatum and the Celtics are in the first chapter of a similar rivalry with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Tatum and Antetokunmpo have already gone head-to-head over 30 times, including three playoff meetings. As young as Tatum and Antetokokunmpo are, it wouldn’t come as any surprise to see them — and their teams — continue to trade jabs each postseason as they’ll stand in each other’s way as they pursue an NBA title.

Ahead of this year’s Christmas slate, The Sporting News takes a closer look at these rivalries and how they stand to push the game to another dimension, just like the greatest rivalries of years past.

Click the player above to watch the video.


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