A Rivalry Looms on the NBA Horizon

The Bulls-Cavs game the night before NBA All-Star weekend offered something special; it was much more than just a regular season game. The days where the NBA was known for epic rivalries such as Magic versus Bird, MJ versus Utah (or Detroit or New York), seem long gone. Where have these great rivalries gone?

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird 1985 NBA Finals
Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird was one of the all-time great rivalries

The Heat Pacers rivalry, if you could call it that, heated up for a bit, but when LeBron James went back to Cleveland and Paul George got injured, that rivalry died. The Western Conference had its share over the years as Kobe had some great rivalry-type series against Sacramento and Chris Webber (including this epic moment from Big Shot Rob). We briefly got infatuated with the idea of multiple LeBron and Kobe finals, and then changed the hope to  multiple LeBron versus Durant finals, but neither materialized. The Spurs had some legendary series against the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash, but nothing for an extended period of time. When it comes down to it, no teams have stood out as major rivals for a long time.

Then Derrick Rose decided to show up last Thursday night. Throw the results of the game out (the Bulls won decisively 113-98). What really stood out about that game is what this matchup could mean for the NBA. Yes, on this occasion the Cavs were playing without All-Star forward Kevin Love and were on the second night of a brutal back to back, the first of which was in Cleveland against a pretty good Miami team. But as I watched this game, I immediately thought of the great things that could be.

First and foremost, Derrick Rose looked legit. Like MVP legit. This was not the same guy who missed the better part of two years with serious knee and leg injuries. This was vintage Derrick Rose. The one who used to dazzle his hometown city of Chicago. Rose may be the most athletic point guard when healthy, and his explosion Thursday night appeared to be back and in full force. His first step was absolutely wicked and Cleveland just had no answer for him. He was confident in his ability to shoot as well as his ability to take it to the hole and hit some pretty nasty circus type layups. On top of all this, his vision was there. He dished out 7 dimes and could have had more.

Wizards v/s Bulls 02/28/11
Derrick Rose looks like he’s back to MVP form

Then there was the timing of this game. It was a primetime game. Usually there are 2-3 Thursday night games, but since it was the day before the All-Star break, this was the only game. It seemed like Rose knew that all the eyes of the NBA would be on this game. Maybe he has been coasting for most of the season or maybe he has just been slowly getting re-acclimated to the game. After all, two years is a long time to not play in the league. But this was a game where he put the entire Eastern Conference on notice. He immediately put the Bulls back into conference, if not title, contention. The Bulls will always play hardnosed defense, thanks to coach Tibbs, but when Rose can orchestrate the offense they are a whole new threat.

Beyond the performance Rose put on and the game itself, I couldn’t help but sit there and watch this game and ooze about the possibilities of what we may be in store for the next few years. I don’t mean to discredit the Hawks, Raptors or Wiz kids, who all are having good years and could definitely rise out of the East. However, in my mind, the East is a two horse race between Cleveland and Chicago who both appear to be on the rise.

So how awesome would a Cavs Bulls series be? Not just for those two teams, but also for the league, which is in desperate need of a new rivalry. The Western Conference Playoffs are already hyped this year, as it may be the most loaded conference of all time. You could pick any one of about eight teams and make a case for them to come out of the conference. But in comparison, the weak, six winning team East feels like the little brother, so not many people are excited to watch the Eastern Conference playoffs. But if the Cavs and Bulls do meet, then NBA fans will be in for something special.

The Bulls defense may be one of the few units that can actually contain LeBron

Just look at the matchups. Kyrie Irving versus Derrick Rose will be one of the best point guard matchups the league could hope for. Nobody can really come close to actually being able to cover LeBron, but with Joakim Noah anchoring a strong Bulls defensive unit, they have the ability to limit James’ impact on the game offensively. Add in Pau Gasol versus Kevin Love and you get a whole world of fun. Make no mistake about it, this would be a series of intense, physical basketball and with the stars and superstars taking part, I’m sure there will also be a few straight jaw-dropping moments. You know what I’m talking about, the moment where you sit back and think, “How the (bleep) did he do that!”

As an NBA fan, or even a casual basketball fan, if all of that does not get you excited, then the possibility of more to come should get you pumped. These two teams are poised to be Eastern Conference contenders for the next few years, at least, and it will be fascinating to see them meet in the playoffs a few times. So thank you Derrick Rose for firing the first shot and potentially igniting a new chapter in great NBA rivalries. We now know to prepare for an entertaining stretch run for the rest of the regular season. Let’s all just pray this new rivalry will rise this postseason.

By Peter Gumas

Images: Bulls Warm-UpsMagic versus Larry, Derrick Rose, LeBron James

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