First Round Playoff Preview: Washington v. Cleveland

by April 18, 2008

By Ryan Jones

Last fall, in the insightful and entertaining style that has long been my hallmark, I previewed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2007-08 season.

I did a great job. No surprise there.

As I summed up at the time:

“The Cavs will win 48 regular-season games, beat someone like Orlando or Toronto in the first round, and lose to Boston or Detroit or Miami in the second round. It’s not abject failure, but it’s not progress, either. Questions will be asked. Futures will be debated. LeBron won’t pull a Kobe next summer, but he won’t be happy, either.

Ok, so I shortchanged Orlando slightly and gave Miami a wee bit too much credit, but I’m pretty damn close on the Cavs’ record, and despite the team’s midseason overhaul, I’m guessing the rest of it will be proven pretty on-point as well.

I’ll be blunt: I sure as sh*t don’t see the Cavs playing in June. Granted, I didn’t see them playing in June last year, either — nobody did — but this year’s different. Last year, all their primary competitors for the Eastern Conference crown had serious flaws. This year, there’s team MVP Paul Pierce and his terrific supporting cast on the Celtics, whose flaws are awfully hard to locate. I cannot imagine a non-injury scenario in which these Celtics can be beaten by these Cavs in a seven-game series.

I’m also not convinced these Cavs will even get that far. Maybe I’m selling LeBron short (not something I’m often accused of), but no matter how well he’s playing, I could absolutely see them losing in the first round this year, and as stated, there’s no way they get past the second.

Now I guess I should talk about the Wizards, who are, I’m told, facing the Cavs in the first round of the playoffs for the 18th time in the last four days. The Wizards are, in their own way, a nice little story. They benefited from overcame the loss of GilZero to win 43 games, which is not exactly great, but at least good enough to get them back into the playoffs. If we’d known that Roger Mason, Andre Blatche and Nick Young would all score more points than Gilbert this season, I imagine most of us would’ve predicted the Wizards’ season to end with a high Lottery pick, or perhaps a D-League invite, not a playoff berth. So good for them.

They’ve got motivation on their side, too. Apparently — and I did not know this — Gilbert Arenas has a “blog.” I find this interesting. Here’s what he recently wrote in this “blog”:

Three years straight of the same two teams facing each other is hard to do. Like I said the last time I blogged, this is a team that we feel comfortable playing in the first round. One of the reasons is because they made roster changes midway through the year and they really haven’t gelled together yet. And, it’s a hype game…

Something else Gilbert said in his blog:

Now that we’re playing those guys again, I think everybody is going to have their eyes on it. Especially since the media is hyping it up.

“Did you see what Gilbert said in his blog????”

I put that in my blog a week ago. I said we wanted to play Cleveland so we needed to win some games. Then the four and the five seeds were locked in yesterday and it was set for us to play the Cavs and everybody was like, “Oh, Washington is playing Cleveland, Gilbert must have just blogged!”

NOW I’m blogging. This is the updated blog.

Blogging! That’s a fun word.

Anyway, the Wizards. This season, Antawn and Caron reminded us that they’re both really good players, and DeShawn reminded us that he’s a loon not bad either. The rest of the roster does have sort of a D-League ring to it, but then, so does much of the Eastern Conference. Party.

But I think all that any of us need to know about these Wizards is that we (fans, media, that blogger guy with the hat who’s not Gilbert) have spent a lot more time this season talking about the guy who barely played, and what he “blogged” about, and how we all sort of got tired of him, and also about how DeShawn Stevenson is a loon, than we have about what these guys do when they’re wearing their matching tank tops and running around with on the court. Which tells me they’re not a serious contender for much of anything this year…

…which sort of makes them like the Cavs, only less compelling in an actual basketball sense, because you can’t really see these Wizards contending ever, at least not as presently constructed.

One man’s opinion, of course.

The point I’m stumbling toward is that the outcome of this series doesn’t matter. Not cosmically, of course, but not really in the scope of this NBA season, either. My guess is that, when we look back on LeBron’s career in 10 years, we’ll talk about how this was the season his Cavs took a half-step backward, because he simply couldn’t put an entire roster on his back two years running. It might even be the year before the year he decided he’d have to leave Cleveland if he ever wanted to win anything. Or not. Just a guess. (Don’t quote me on that, especially if you used to work for the Cavs and you have a website urging LeBron to leave Cleveland. If that applies to anyone. Thanks.)

That said, I’ll go with… Wizards in 6. LeBron’s back’s gonna lock up on him in Game 2 or 3, I’m guessing, and try as he might, Devin Brown simply won’t be able to make up the loss. Ben Wallace doesn’t care, Damon Jones sucks, etc and so forth. The Wizards will be inspired to finally shake the Cavalier-shaped monkey from their collective back, and the chance to lay down for slaughter at the Celtics’ feet would mean a lot (or at least a little) more to folks in D.C. than it would in Cleveland.

Or maybe LeBron will stay healthy enough, and inspired enough by DeShawn (who I understand is a loon), and they’ll finish this thing off in five or six. I don’t mean to hedge. I just don’t really care. Bron proved me wrong last year, and I’d love it if he did it again, both because the playoffs are more interesting when the League’s best players stick around a few rounds, and because, if the Cavs somehow do miraculously get back to the Finals, recent history tells us they’re guaranteed to beat the best team from the West.


Right. Now: Here, if you’re curious, is a recap of the teams’ head-to-head matchups this season, which should almost but not quite give the impression that I did some research on this:

Game 1 (CLE@WAS, 12/05/07) Wizards 105, Cavaliers 86 — Gilbert and LeBron missed the game with injuries. Caron Butler scored 27 to lead the Wizards, who outscored Cleveland 31-13 in the second quarter, which essentially decided the game.

Game 2: (WAS@CLE, 1/23/08) Cavaliers 121, Wizards 85 — Big Z went for 24 and Bron added 23, 8 and 8 for the Cavs, who put this one away with a 43-17 third-quarter run. Brendan Haywood led all Washington scorers with (wait for it…) 11 points. That’s hard to do. Gil, obviously, DNP.

Game 3: (WAS@CLE, 2/22/08) Cavaliers 90, Wizards 89 — Roster-wise, one of the least telling games any two teams played all season. Gil and Caron missed with injuries for Washington, while the Cavs — fresh off their big mid-season trade and with Boobie, Sideshow and Sasha all injured — had only eight players suited up. Three of them were Billy Thomas, Dwyane Jones, and Kaniel Dickens, which explains why Damon Jones started and played 44 minutes. Nothing in mankind’s capacity for knowledge can explain how he scored 27 points. LeBron? 33, 15, and 8, because he’s f*ckin’ valuable. Darius Songaila (!) led the Wizards with 19.

Game 4: (CLE@WAS, 3/13/08) Wizards 101, Cleveland 99 — LeBron (a poor-shooting 25, 7 and 7) and the new-look Cavs (minus Boobie and Big Z, both injured) fall to DeShawn the Bronny Stopper and the still-Gil-less Wiz, seven of whom scored in double figures.

And what does the season series tell us? Nada, nada, nada, not a damn thing. Both teams won on their home floor. Two close games, two blowouts. Gilbert missed every game, and the Cavs started drastically different lineups in three out of four. You can talk all you want about their familiarity, but as currently constructed, these two teams (the Cavs, in particular) have almost no common history. There is no precedent to tell us how these Wizards, with a healthy Gil back on the floor, will match up with the post-trade Cavs.

Which has made the reading and writing of this preview an utter waste of all our time.

But, yeah, Wizards in six. Why not.