The Houston Rockets have always been a force to reckon with in the NBA. Not only have they brought home two championships, but they have also developed some intense rivalries over the years.
Fans of the Rockets are no strangers to the anticipation and excitement that comes with watching their team face off against their biggest foes.
One such rivalry that has garnered significant attention is the one between the Rockets and the Utah Jazz. This fierce competition took off in the 1990s when both teams were playoff powerhouses in the Midwest Division. The Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, clashed with the Jazz’s duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton for some unforgettable high-stakes games.
Another worthy mention is the rivalry with the San Antonio Spurs. Sharing the state of Texas with three NBA franchises has fueled a unique dynamic among these teams, each of which has claimed at least one NBA title.
As the Rockets continue to impress, it’s always thrilling to see which rivalries take center stage in each new season.
Friendly Southern Rivals
In this section, we will focus on the Houston Rockets’ friendly southern rivals.
These rivalries, though heated at times, share a sense of regional camaraderie and respect.
The rivalry between the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks is built on close geographical proximity and intense competition within the state of Texas.
Over the years, the two teams have faced off in multiple playoff series, adding fuel to the fire. Some memorable moments in this rivalry include the heated 2005 playoffs and the epic 2015 first-round matchup.
Despite the strong competitive nature between them, both organizations have shown respect towards each other.
San Antonio Spurs
Another Texas showdown, the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs have had quite the rivalry.
While it might not be as intense as the one with the Dallas Mavericks, the competition between these two powerhouses has been nothing short of thrilling.
With both teams having had their share of Hall of Fame players such as Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets) and Tim Duncan (Spurs), this rivalry has brought forth some classic games throughout the years.
The mutual admiration between players and fans of both teams has kept the rivalry friendly and exciting.
New Orleans Pelicans
Though not located in Texas, the New Orleans Pelicans share a similar Southern bond with the Houston Rockets.
The two teams have competed as divisional rivals since the arrival of the Pelicans in the Western Conference in 2002. While the rivalry might not have the same level of history as the ones with the Mavericks and Spurs, it has still been an interesting addition to the Rockets’ list of friendly rivalries.
As both teams continue to grow and develop, fans can expect to see more competitive matchups and friendly competition in the future.
Western Conference Adversaries
The Houston Rockets have had a long-standing rivalry with the Golden State Warriors.
In recent years, these two Western Conference powerhouses clashed in high-stakes playoff battles, most notably in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. These games have fostered a friendly competitive spirit between the teams and their fanbases.
Great performances by both Rockets’ star James Harden and Warriors’ sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have made for some exciting basketball moments.
Los Angeles Lakers
Another Western Conference team that the Rockets have had a history with is the Los Angeles Lakers.
Over the years, they’ve had their fair share of head-to-head matchups and memorable moments, highlighted by legendary players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.
The Lakers are considered rivals with most teams in the West, and their encounters with the Rockets have only increased the animosity and excitement.
Portland Trail Blazers
Lastly, the Houston Rockets have had a solid rivalry with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Although it may not be as intense as their rivalries with the Warriors and Lakers, several memorable games have taken place between the two teams. Houston and Portland have faced off in high-stakes playoff games, and individual showdowns between their stars have often been thrilling to watch.
With both teams featuring up-and-coming talent, this rivalry could evolve into something more intense in the coming years.
Notable Past Rivals
The rivalry between the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz is one of the most memorable in NBA history.
In the 1990s, these two teams met in the playoffs multiple times, including some close and hard-fought series. Houston’s superstars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler regularly matched up against Utah’s duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Over the years they have met in five playoffs series (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, and 2007). Although the intensity of the rivalry has faded in recent years, it remains a notable part of Rockets’ history.
Another prominent rival from the Rockets’ past is the Phoenix Suns. The two teams had some intense playoff battles in the ’90s. Key games included the 1994 and 1995 Western Conference Semifinals, where the Rockets defeated the Suns in a contentious seven-game series.
During this time, Houston was led by Hakeem Olajuwon, while Phoenix was anchored by Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson. Some exciting and close matches between the two teams have led to a storied past rivalry.
In summary, the Rockets’ most notable past rivals include the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns, with heated playoff battles and superstar showdowns being the highlights of these rivalries.
Historic Rivalry Moments
Clutch City Era
In the mid-1990s, the Houston Rockets were led by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. The Clutch City era saw the Rockets win back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. One of the key rivalries during this time was against the San Antonio Spurs, who were led by another Hall of Famer, David Robinson.
In the 1995 Western Conference Finals, the Rockets faced off against the Spurs in an intense six-game series. Olajuwon’s legendary performance throughout the series included a 42-point and 9-rebound game in the decisive Game 6. The Rockets emerged victorious and went on to win their second consecutive NBA championship against the Orlando Magic.
Another rivalry the Rockets faced during this era was against the Seattle SuperSonics. Although the Rockets secured two championships, they were swept by the SuperSonics in the 1996 playoffs. Following that season, Houston acquired Charles Barkley to bolster its roster, aiming to reclaim their championship status.
James Harden’s MVP Season
Certainly, one of the more iconic rivalry moments involving the Houston Rockets took place during James Harden’s MVP season in 2017-2018. The Rockets were once again engaged in a battle against the Spurs, but this time covered by the spectacular play of the two stars – Harden and Kawhi Leonard.
During the regular season, Harden led Houston to a league-best 65-17 record, and the Rockets clashed with the Golden State Warriors – led by Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson – in the Western Conference Finals. This intensely fought seven-game series further cemented the rivalry between the two powerhouses.
Another highlight during Harden’s MVP season was the electrifying first-round matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, featuring Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Harden’s 44-point and 8-assist performance in Game 1 set the tone for the remainder of the series, with the Rockets triumphing in five games.
Throughout these historic rivalry moments, the Houston Rockets displayed their resiliency, passion, and competitive spirit, adding to the team’s rich legacy in the NBA.
James is a big time NBA Golden State follower, who makes sure to catch games when he's in the area. He likes to follow International Soccer, with an interest in small town soccer club, Blackburn Rovers located in the North on the UK.