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Stevenson’s right to test the throne

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DeShawn Stevenson is a member of "the dumbest team in the history of civilization," as TNT gabber Charles Barkley sees it.

The collective IQ of the Wizards is in doubt because of Stevenson's pointed remarks about LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas suggesting the Wizards have what it takes to eliminate the Cavaliers.

There is an unwritten rule in sports that frowns on athletes who provide the opposition with bulletin-board material, as Stevenson did the last time the Wizards and Cavaliers met March 13 in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.

Stevenson called James "overrated" after giving him an earful in that contest and hounding him out of his comfort range.

Stevenson drew a charge from James with 13.2 seconds left. Stevenson then was able to get a hand in the face of James on the potential game-winning 3-pointer. The ball hit the front of the rim, the Wizards left the floor with a satisfying 101-99 victory and James was moved to say, "I'm human."

Stevenson did not back away from his comments following an afternoon practice yesterday.

"I hope I'm a marked man [in Cleveland]," he said. "Antawn [Jamison], Caron [Butler] and Gil have to do the scoring. My job is easy compared to theirs."

And James is apt to take that comment the wrong way. Stevenson's job is to defend the rubbery-faced one.

Stevenson said his beef with James stems from comments that made their way back to him before the teams met the last time.

Stevenson is not tolerating it, and if Barkley happens to think it is not wise to provoke the ire of James, he is entitled to his soft-minded opinion.

The antithesis of that view welcomes the unyielding conviction of Stevenson.

Bad blood already exists between the two rivals, in part because the Cavaliers have won the previous two playoff series and James is granted wide latitude from the referees, often a hop, skip and a jump on his forays to the basket.

Ernie Grunfeld, the team's president of basketball operations, understands that the animosity levels of teams increase in relation to the number of times they meet in the playoffs. He remembers how it was with the Knicks and Bulls in the '90s, when he was the general manager of the Knicks.

"Rivalries are created in the playoffs," he said earlier this week. "It's a good rivalry we have with them."

It is a matchup that seemingly favors the Wizards because of their three All-Stars, deep bench, improved defense and free throw shooting.

There also is the belief among the Wizards that they were the better team last spring until Arenas and Butler succumbed to injuries.

The Wizards may not be physically at 100 percent, what with Arenas and Butler rebounding from yet more injuries, but at least they will have their principal weapons in place.

And they have the in-your-face defensive determination of Stevenson, who does not sip from the James-as-messiah chalice. It was Stevenson who helped goad James into a 9-for-22 shooting performance in the last game between the two teams.

Eddie Jordan is not inclined to silence Stevenson or discourage his competitiveness.

"Sometimes if you stand up to the bully, the bully doesn't bother you so much," Jordan said earlier this week. "Look, DeShawn is a man, and he's a veteran. He's going to stand up."

Stevenson reflects the growing toughness of the Wizards.

Theirs is a toughness borne of injuries and a recognition that tissue-thin teams do not measure up in the playoffs. Theirs is a toughness that comes from the mind-set of Stevenson and Butler and the ability of Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche to clean up a number of defensive lapses at the rim.

Stevenson is looking forward to being the No. 1 target of the crowd in Cleveland.

"I think [the talk] is pretty high right now," he said. "Everyone knows it's going to be a tough series."

And then Stevenson said this: "It's our time."

That is not dumb. That is a man bent on challenging James.

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