From 2006-2008, back when LeBron James was a playoff neophyte and Gilbert Arenas was an NBA star, the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers faced each other in the first round of the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, with the Cavs sweeping all three meetings. While that hardly sounds like a compelling rivalry, the first of those meetings was a hotly contested series marked by two overtime games and LeBron's stellar playoff debut. Their 2007 series, a Cavs sweep, was hardly memorable, but 2008 elevated the rivalry once more, thanks to a bizarre personal beef between LeBron and then-Wizard DeShawn Stevenson that came to involve Jay-Z and Soulja Boy. Wizards-Cavs became one of the Eastern Conference's most interesting rivalries thanks to on and off the court drama.
After those three meetings, the Wizards and Cavs took diverging paths. While the Wizards sunk into a pattern of losing and off-court turmoil, LeBron's star continued to rise and the Cavs became perennial contenders. However, fortunes were reversed when LeBron left Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach, as the Cavs became one of the worst teams in the league while the Wizards slowly began to build a legitimate contender. Flash forward to 2014, and both the Cavs and Wizards are among the East's best, thanks to LeBron's return and a series of shrewd moves by the Wizards' front office. The stage is set for the next chapter of the Wizards-Cavs rivalry to ignite.
Among the best subplots of the renewed rivalry is the new iteration of the LeBron James-Paul Pierce matchup. The two have had a heated playoff rivalry dating back to the Celtics' 2008 title run, a personal matchup marked by clutch performances and personal drama. While the two are in different leagues as players at this point of their careers, the fact that Pierce can still be a thorn in LeBron's side adds a personal edge to the teams' rivalry. James-Pierce is hardly the only personal rivalry between the teams; John Wall and Kyrie Irving are both among the top young point guards in the NBA, and the two of them, alongside young talent such as Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr., Tristan Thompson and (maybe?) Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett will have the chance to grow and compete against each other for years to come.
The first round of the Wizards-Cavs rivalry admittedly didn't have a ton at stake, as those Wizards were never serious contenders and LeBron hadn't really begun his run of dominance yet. However, with the way the two teams are set up now, they could be competing in Eastern Conference semifinals and finals for seasons to come. If the Cavs land Kevin Love, it makes them the favorites in the East going forward, with the upstart Wizards potentially emerging as their biggest threat. Their playoff matchups would have serious title implications, though mostly for the Cavs. However, their is one move the Wizards can make in the future that would put them on an equal playing field, a move that would instantly make the rivalry the most compelling in the NBA. Yeah, you know where this is going:
If the Wizards can achieve their dream goal of adding Kevin Durant in 2016, it would take the rivalry into the stratosphere. LeBron and KD, the two best in the league, competing in the same conference, battling it out for a berth in the Finals every year, would make the East the marquee conference and make the Eastern finals the de facto NBA finals. If the Cavs land Love, the two teams would have 3 of the top 10 (or 6 or 8 or 15, depends how you feel about Love) players in the league, plus young stars in Wall, Irving, and Beal.
Of course, that's assuming quite a lot, and all that may never even happen. But hey, we can dream. And even if things stay as they are, the Cavs and Wizards should still be among the top teams in the league for the foreseeable future. All the ingredients are in place to make this new chapter of the Wizards-Cavs rivalry one of the NBA's most compelling and entertaining, thanks to an attractive and intriguing blend of on-court potential, personal rivalries and title implications.
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Tags: Basketball, John Wall, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, NBA, Washington, Washington Wizards