Paul Pierce set a hell of a tone for the NBA preseason when he poked the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah in the forehead. “We’re going to be the instigators,” he said of his new club, the Washington Wizards. After more unusually physical play throughout the game, Wizards big man Dejuan Blair went on to compare the team’s deep, bulky frontcourt to that of the brash, roundly hated Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” teams of a quarter century ago.
Animosity and antagonism continued in the next day of the preseason — this time in Dallas, where the Mavericks hosted their unsavory state rival, the Houston Rockets. Geography has always made the teams natural rivals, but in recent years their tension has grown to soap opera proportions.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey heated the bad blood between the two sides by calling Mark Cuban and asking if he’d be willing to trade Dirk Nowitzki, in 2013. Cuban wasn’t amused by the breach of etiquette, and he didn’t forget. This past July, the Mavs owner roped Chandler Parsons away from Houston by offering the restricted free agent a contract the Rockets had to refuse. The deal was designed as a poison pill to the Rockets’ salary cap — it was plus-sized and loaded with unwieldy clauses — and Morey didn't match it, letting his prized forward walk to Houston's in-state adversary.
Parsons is now the Helen of Texas — a figure who’s come to symbolize the volcano of hate between these teams. His friend and ex-teammate James Harden said, shortly after Parsons’ departure, that every Rocket not named Harden or Dwight Howard “is a role player.” Later that week, Parsons had this to say:
The game between the two teams Tuesday night was a continuation of their long quarrel. A lot of body-checking and flaring tempers led to a ludicrous 81 combined fouls on Houston and Dallas. Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley could be seen knocking Parsons to the hardwood. Things came to a nervy ending when Rockets rookie Kostas Panikolaou made some big free throws to seal a narrow 111-108 Rockets road victory.
— John Wilmes