Once upon a time the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers were playoff teams. In fact, they were playoff rivals, or something like that. Three consecutive seasons–from ’05-’06 to ’07-08–the Wiz played the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs. And each of those three seasons the Wiz went home early.
The Cavaliers would go on to produce some very successful teams (even if they underachieved), while the Wizards sunk back into mediocrity behind injuries, coaching changes, and gun scandals. But as we head toward the 2012-13 season, there is good reason to spark up that rivalry. Going forward I’ll relive the old rivalry in Part I, and push for a revived rivalry in Part II.
Part I: The Old Rivalry
2005-2006: In the Beginning…
LeBron played his first playoff series ever against the Wizards. It didn’t lack excitement, going six games, the last two of which were overtime. LeBron managed a triple double in first ever playoff game. There were plenty of good games and plays; LeBron’s debatable game-winner in Game 3 comes to mind, as well as a Game 5 duel between Arenas (44 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast) and James (45 pts, 7 reb, and 6 ast) in which LBJ had and another game-winner.
Most memorable though in this series though was Game 6, a game that would set cement the Wiz-Cavs rivalry. Down 3-2 in the series, the Wiz held a 113-112 lead at home with 15 seconds left. Even better, uber-confident-and-clutch Arenas was at the free throw line. To that point, Arenas had been unstoppable with 36 pts, 11 ast, and 5 reb. But in an epic moment of trash talk, LeBron whispered something to Gilbert, who proceeded to miss both free throws. Damon Jones, who hadn’t played a second all game, would hit a game-winning, series-clinching shot on Washington’s home floor. Argh.
2006-2007: Men Down
Although the Wizards returned to face the Cavaliers in the 2007 playoffs, it wasn’t much of a matchup. The Cavaliers weren’t a great team (although they did make the finals after this awesome series), but the Wizards were missing Arenas and Butler. The Cavs swept.
2007-2008: Trash Talk Central
The final installation of Wiz-Cavs rivalry was heated and close. The lengthy history of trash talk might be the most defining memory of the rivalry, especially between LeBron and DeShawn Stevenson. Some memorable lines include:
- Stevenson on LeBron: “He’s overrated. And you can say I said that.”
- LeBron on Stevenson: “With DeShawn Stevenson, it’s kind of funny. It’s almost like Jay-Z [responding to a negative comment] made by Soulja Boy. It doesn’t make sense.”
- Stevenson: “I hope we play Cleveland. I’m going to get Soulja Boy courtside seats and have him wear a DeShawn Stevenson jersey. Maybe [James] can have Jay-Z there since LeBron’s all on his [shorts] anyway. And tell LeBron to cut that beard off and stop copying me.” Indeed, Soulja Boy showed up courtside in a DeShawn jersey and danced for the Washington crowd.
- Gilbert, on Barkley’s claim that the Wiz made problems for themselves by firing up LeBron: “That’s cute. That’s cute. They might have the No. 2 player [in the league], but they don’t have the No. 1 end of game, end of period, end of half player. Uh-huh, know what I’m sayin’?”
So what happened? First, remember that Gilbert was playing hurt. In fact he didn’t play after Game 4. But other than that, the series was characterized by hard fouls, this Gibson-to-James alley-oop, a game winner from Caron, and a dagger of a game-winner from Delonte. There isn’t much in the way of video recaps, other than from individual games, but this video captures the overall excitement of their last playoff meeting.
Part II: A Revived Rivalry
Recapping and reliving that rivalry was a painful experience, but that was the past, and I’m ready for payback. And lucky for us, the two teams have many of the necessary ingredients for a rekindled rivalry.
Ingredient #1: THEY TOOK OUR JOBS
One of the best Wizard players in recent years was iron man Antawn Jamison. Then we traded him to our rival, the Cavs, for nothing. Well, the trade yielded Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a minute, but we cut him and he was promptly signed by (you guessed it) the Cavs. We got some other pieces (Al Thornton, Lazar Hayward), but neither of them are All-Stars or badass Lithuanians. And none of them are freakin’ Antawn Jamison.
The 2011-12 Cavs also managed to get their hands on two Wizards from the 2010-11 season: Alonzo Gee and Lester Hudson. This wouldn’t matter so much, normally, but the Wizards’ wing-play was and has been awful. Both would have been helpful, and even if they weren’t, we would have been treated to plays like these.
Ingredient #2: Bizarro World in the Rebuilding Process
Both teams are in the process of a rebuild after their respective stars left. In that process, the teams have each acquired players whose parallels are uncanny. Let’s go over some of the weird similarities between some of the important players on both teams:
Franchise Saving Point Guards–John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving: The comparisons start with these two point guard phenoms. Granted, they have their differences (namely Kyrie’s superior shooting and Wall’s superior shot-blocking), but the similarities outweigh the contrasts. Both played a single season of college hoops at a national powerhouse (Kyrie at Duke, Wall at Kentucky). Both were PGs picked #1 overall in back-to-back drafts. Both have lightning quick speed. And both are billed as franchise saviors. Kyrie might be ahead of Wall at this point in time, but their potential should make for epic battles for years to come.
Rookie Shooting Guards of the Future–Bradley Beal vs. Dion Waiters: Both the Cavs and the ‘Zards lacked efficient guard-play, so both tried to beef up their 2-spot in the 2012 draft. The Wizards picked Bradley Beal #3 overall and the Cavs picked Dion Waiters #4 overall. Not much can be said about them yet, although both seem to complement their respective point guards; Waiters’ athleticism and slashing will balance Kyrie’s control and shooting, and likewise, Beal’s control/shooting will balance Wall’s speed. Also, both will be fighting for a starting spot with young gunners (Beal with Jordan Crawford; Waiters with Alonzo Gee).
Brazilian Big-Men–Nene Hilario vs. Anderson Varejao: The two best Brazilians to ever play in the NBA are on the Wiz and the Cavs. Their games might differ–Nene is an offensive machine while Andy is a gritty defender–but they make up 2/3 of NBA Brazilian big men, which is enough to qualify as an ingredient for a rivalry. Moreover, both dealt with injuries last year and both have their fair share of hair.
Second-year Foreign Power Forwards–Jan Vesely vs. Tristan Thompson: After Kyrie Irving, the 2011 draft had a dearth of can’t-miss prospects; both the Cavs (#4 pick) and the Wizards (#6) hoped to add to their young core with high-potential big men. The Canadian Tristan Thompson and Czech Jan Vesely had up and down seasons with increasing responsibility as the season pushed on. They share many qualities–athleticism, lankiness, and mediocre shooting. Despite their flashes of excellence, both have a long way to go to justify their draft positions.
Ingredient #3: Cursed Cities
The final similarity between the two franchises is the cursedness that each franchise (and city) faces. Of course, Cleveland has the shittier history between the two cities, but both rank among the losing-est professional sports cities in recent years. For example, in the 2010-11 season, the Cavs had the longest NBA losing streak ever (26 games), while the Wizards suffered a 26-game losing streak on the road. To add to the legend of their rivaling mediocrity, the Wiz snapped this streak against–you guessed it–the Cavaliers!
Going forward, it’s only fair for each of these two teams to share a rivalry against a team as unlucky and poorly run as itself. In that regard, few teams make for better rivals than the Wizards and the Cavaliers.
What do you think about the Wiz-Cavs “rivalry”? Who has the edge? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook