I can completely understand what LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers hope to preserve by downplaying the team’s rivalry with the Washington Wizards. Usually in a rivalry, it’s two good teams that meet regularly for the rights to something larger. Pittsburgh counts the Baltimore-Washington area as rivals in hockey and football, and rightly so when it comes to divisional or conference championships.
But the Cavaliers-Wizards drama has amounted to little more than an entertaining playoff series over the last several years. And usually, injuries have derailed the Wizards from having any real shot at paying the Cavs their comeuppance.
But what bites at James and the Cavaliers is that, as the better team over the duration of the rivalry, they can’t claim responsibility for its birth. They’ve made no caustic comments, never played as the underdog, and don’t keep the same personnel long enough for hard feelings to build over years.
The Wizards? Yeah, they’ve done all of that.
So you can understand why, as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, the Cavs don’t want to admit that they play intense and meaningful games against a franchise that is not among the elite. The last thing they want us to believe is that they care about a team that is not ready made for a title run.
But the Washington Wizards are a team that brings out the best in the Cavaliers, no matter what court they meet on, or what juncture in the season. When these teams meet, there is far more a stake than a win.
It’s the latest chapter in one of the league’s growing and meaningful rivalries. Even if the King is too high up on his throne to acknowledge it.