The lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season brought us possibly the closest rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers that we've ever seen. With only one win separating the regular season records of both teams, the bolstering of the Clippers' lineup with the arrival of Chris Paul certainly paid dividends. It might be a bit early to say, but a quick check on the sports betting options will no doubt put both teams in the same ballpark for 2012-13.
Of course, the the landscape has changed for quite a few NBA teams this off-season. The Lakers have re-loaded with the huge additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard -- and they're not the only ones. The rivalry in the NYC-area between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets should be one of the closest since Drazen, DC and Kenny A were in town.
So, which one of the big city matchups will be the most interesting? Let's take a look at how each of the four teams are shaping up.
Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks
What has changed with the Nets?
The first and most obvious change to the Nets comes with name and location. No longer "New Jersey", the Jay-Z-led Nets will now be known as Brooklyn. With that change comes a great deal of excitement, new facilities and a fresh start. That has to count for something.
More importantly, the Nets pulled off a blockbuster deal to bring Atlanta's star guard Joe Johnson to town. Johnson provides All-Star quality scoring and size at the two-spot and pulls much of the load away from lead guard Deron Williams. At the same time, the Nets re-signed Williams for five years, and did the same with defensive star Gerald Wallace for four years. They also extended the contract of key center, Brook Lopez.
Supplementary pieces like Andray Blatche, CJ Watson, Kris Humphries and Josh Childress make for a roster with sufficient depth to give cross-town rivals the Knicks some trouble.
What has changed with the Knicks?
Remember the hoopla last season attached to temporarily the most famous basketballer in the world, Jeremy Lin? Well, all of that will be gone next season. Lin was ultimately allowed to walk to the Houston Rockets, with the Knicks determining that he really wasn't worth all that. Instead, we'll be once again graced by the presence of stars Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
In addition, the Knicks brought back familiar faces Raymond Felton, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby (all of whom had seen time in Portland since their last time in Knicks colours). They signed veteran star point guard Jason Kidd to help mentor Felton. They also re-signed shooter Steve Novak, firebrand guard JR Smith and added guards Pablo Prigioni and Ronnie Brewer.
Who is better?
This is a tough call. Last season's Nets (22-44) paled in comparison to the 36-30 Knicks -- particularly when Lin was on the court. However it is a much different outlook this season. Linsanity is over in New York, but the Knicks have the opportunity to consolidate on teamwork between Melo, Amar'e and Chandler, whilst adding the veteran presence of Kidd and co. Meanwhile, things are suddenly exciting in Brooklyn. The change of scenery, coupled with the arrival of Johnson makes for a formiddable Nets team.
Which team is better? This one is too close for me to call.
Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers
What has changed with the Lakers?
Two massive names: Steve and Dwight. Suddenly the Lakers are talking title, with no hesitation whatsoever. They're super-relevant again, in the same breath as the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The starting five of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard is as good as any super-ensemble compiled in recent times. Is this team capable of putting that together for a title? It is an interesting thought, and one that brings back memories of the Payton-Kobe-Malone-Shaq lineup of yesteryear in LA.
What has changed with the Clippers?
After putting together an impressive combo of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Caron Butler last season, this off-season turned into a consolidation exercise for the Clips. The additions of Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Ronny Turiaf and extension of Blake Griffin for five years all were positive moves for LA's other team.
However those positives will be balanced against the fact that both Paul and Griffin will be recovering from off-season surgery as the season begins. That could amount to a very slow start.
Who is better?
With the Lakers trying to bring together some very significant players and the Clippers' injury woes, they're both likely to get out of the gates a little slowly. Once all of that is sorted out though, the Lakers are going to very dangerous. The Clips have some interesting moving parts, but it is the Lakers who are boasting about potentially beating all-time regular season records. And rightly so. Look for the Lakers to win the rivalry race in LA -- this season anyway.