By Matt Graber
The Washington Wizards begin their regular season October 29th against the Miami Heat. But November 21st, a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is the date that Wizards fans have circled on their calenders. Because, in case you missed it, the Wizards-Cavs rivalry is back on.
On Monday, at Wizards Media Day, Bradley Beal claimed that the tandem of he and John Wall are “definitely the best backcourt in the NBA”. A bold claim, sure, but hardly unreasonable, especially for media day. However, Cavs guard Dion Waiters took offense. From ESPN.com:
“That’s nonsense,” Waiters said after practice Tuesday. “(Beal is) supposed to say that, but I know deep down, he’s not messing with me and Ky (Kyrie Irving). I think me and Ky are the best backcourt, young backcourt. That’s all.”
John Wall disagreed, and he let Waiters know it:
“Why he say that? They haven’t seen a playoff game yet so when they make one they can start talking,” Wall said after the Wizards completed their first training camp practice of the season. “But if you’re going to be the best back court, you have to start. This is the year he’s probably starting so let’s see who got to best back court. You got to be a starting back court to be the best back court.”
Shots fired. The back-and-forth continued on Twitter until this instant classic from Waiters:
Yeah, it’s on. And it’s about time, because the Wizards and Cavs have the talent, relevancy, personalities, individual matchups and history to once again be one of the most entertaining rivalries in the NBA. In case you forgot about Round 1 of the rivalry, here’s a recap of their engaging and volatile trilogy of first-round matchups.
2006: The first of three consecutive Wizards-Cavs playoff meetings came in 2006 and featured a close and highly entertaining duel between Gilbert Arenas and a 22-year-old LeBron James, who was making his playoff debut.
That sentence may not make sense today, but you must remember that Gilbert Arenas used to be an All-Star and one of the NBA’s best scorers. The series has highly competitive, and Arenas and James put up some ridiculous numbers.
The two led their respective teams in scoring each game, highlighted by LeBron edging Arenas 45 points to 44 in Game 5. Unfortunately, the Cavs prevailed 4-2, including three heartbreaking 1 point victories, two coming via game-winning LeBron layups:
(He totally traveled on the second one, but I digress)
2007: 2006 was a fun, competitive and intriguing series featuring stellar individual performances and down-to-the-wire contests. 2007, not so much. The Wizards didn’t have Arenas or Caron Butler, LeBron had a year of playoff experience under his belt, and the Cavs eviscerated the Wizards 4-0 en route to the Finals. The less said about this, the better. Let’s just move on, okay?
2008: Now here is were it gets interesting, mainly due the Wizards guard and instigator DeShawn Stevenson. Stevenson felt it would be wise to call LeBron ‘overrated’. Because LeBron, coming off a devastating loss in the Finals and desperate to cement his greatness, needed even more motivation against a rival team. The Wizards were much more competitive this time around, even winning Game 3 by 36. But a fired-up LeBron led the Cavs to a third straight series victory, dropping 27, 13 and 13 in a series-clinching Game 6.
Unlike the previous two years, this series featured plenty of off-court drama. James refused to comment on Stevenson’s taunt, likening it to Jay-Z responding to a diss from Soulja Boy. This led to both rappers inserting themselves into the feud. Soulja Boy attended game three at the Verizon Center and had his music played over the PA, while Jay-Z dropped this:
So yeah, the Cavs won the first round, but it wasn’t a total loss for Wizards fans. The team actually made the playoffs three years in a row, and we got to see a prime Gilbert Arenas do his thing. And DeShawn Stevenson certainly enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.
Now, after years of ineptitude and mediocrity from both sides, the rivalry is back on. Both teams are packed with real talent, and both are positioned to be Eastern Conference contenders for years to come. Wall vs. Irving. Beal vs. Waiters. Pierce vs. James. It’s gonna be a good one, and it’s gonna have real championship implications. Get excited.
Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and Air Alamo and an editor at Wizards 101. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber