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Silent night: Cavs not saying much headed into Finals rematch

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2015 NBA Finals in review (3:06)

SportsCenter looks back at the 2015 NBA Finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavs. (3:06)

It's Christmas Day. It's the coveted 5 p.m. Eastern time slot that is awarded to what is considered the holiday's prime game. It's a rematch of the NBA Finals.

It would be nice, for entertainment purposes, if the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were out for each other as part of a fierce rivalry.

Perhaps that will be the case at some point, but it does not appear to be true as of now. It would be even more interesting if the Cavs were outwardly obsessed with applying a measure of payback, with the Warriors becoming an obsession that inspired them every waking day, like Rocky preparing for Drago. Or if LeBron James had made it some mission to take back the MVP trophy from Stephen Curry by brute force. Alas, this scene will stay fictional for now.

Despite the outcome last June, James and Curry actually have a cordial relationship, and when James makes a boxing reference to their position in the league, it is not from a bloodthirsty perspective.

"There's not really a direct correlation between myself and Steph, other than we were both born in Akron, Ohio," James said in an interview with ESPN's Michael Wilbon that will air on NBA Countdown before the Warriors-Cavs game on ABC.

"You know, you always kind of compete against guys in your same kind of position or in boxing, weight class. So it's always been kind of like me and [Kevin] Durant and Kobe ]Bryant] and Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and [Dwyane] Wade and Paul George and now Kawhi [Leonard].

"And then you got, like, Steph and Ky [Irving] and [Chris Paul] and Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook and all those guys. So it's not really a direct correlation as far as us competing."

Privately, James grumbled a bit that he didn't get more consideration for NBA Most Valuable Player last season, considering the role he had to play in Cleveland, where he felt he had to carry teammates mostly devoid of experience into the playoffs. But publicly, he backed Curry's victory. And as he said, he never saw it as a mano-a-mano situation.

James has lightly touched on references to the Warriors this season as he has tried to inspire his teammates at times.

"We lost in the Finals, we didn't win," James said after a loss in mid-November as the Warriors were racing out to a 24-0 start. "And the team that beat us looks more hungry than we are, so it shouldn't be that way."

But since then, James has avoided most references to the defending champions. If he has talked more about it to his team in meetings, it has stayed private. When asked how closely he watches the Warriors, as reporters probe for hints of obsession, James said he watches all games, and because he plays in the East he often watches Western teams, including the Warriors, after his team's games are over. In other words, James is passing on offering up red meat.

In the days leading up to the trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, James and his teammates have gone full cliché when it comes to this anticipated game, even with Irving returning from his knee injury in time to make the Cavs whole again for the first time since April. The same goes for coach David Blatt.

"There's a lot of good teams in the league," Blatt said. "Certainly, Golden State is one of the best teams, but they're not all we talk about. You really can't afford spending too much time thinking about what other teams are doing in the league."

Irving, who surely seems like he had major motivation to get back in time for the big Christmas game, also went the low-key route, downplaying everything.

"Honestly, it was just getting back when I got clearance from my doctors," Irving said. "Whether that was going to be before Christmas or not, I was going to take their word."

Over the summer in a podcast with Shaquille O'Neal, Irving made a minor wave when he said, "I felt like we would have definitely won an NBA championship if everyone was healthy. But 'almost' doesn't count."

It sounded like more of a lament than a declaration or a real dig at the champs. The Warriors' Draymond Green, a specialist at finding and exploiting slights, fired back at Irving's woulda, coulda with this gem: "I think if I was 6-11, I'd be Anthony Davis."

If there's any venom from the Cavs toward their vanquishers in this circumstance, it's that they were too hurt to give a Finals performance representative of their best. James has said the same thing regularly since the end of the Finals, and it was a common mantra in Cleveland for the past six months. It will probably be the default commentary on that series from the Cavs' perspective until the end of the season, and the 2014-15 title banner will hang in the Warriors' arena as the perpetual final word on the matter.

"To make a strong push at a championship, you got to have some luck, you got to have some health and you got to have great players," James said. "And they have all three."

For all the discussion of health, the Cavs are likely to be the healthier team for this meeting:

Golden State's Harrison Barnes is still out with a sprained ankle. Cleveland has James, Irving and Kevin Love, a lineup that is 35-4 when starting together since January, though Irving is still on a minutes restriction.

If the Cavs are ever going to do any real talking, it is likely to come after they find vindication on the floor. And while Christmas would be an acceptable place to start, it won't matter unless a true rematch materializes in June.