OKLAHOMA CITY – LeBron James is quickly racking up MVP awards while Kevin Durant is collecting scoring titles at the same pace.
Either could make a case as the best player in the NBA.
Neither is interested in anything beyond team accomplishments.
One of them is about to get the only crown he craves, their head-to-head duel the leading story line of the NBA finals that begin tonight when Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder host James and the Miami Heat.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said Monday. “I think it’s going to be two players that’s going to be tough to guard each other, that’s going to have to guard each other.”
Though their core of Durant, Russell Westbrook, sixth man of the year James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all 23 or younger, the Thunder enter as the favorites in their first finals appearance since moving to Oklahoma City from Seattle in 2008.
James is back for a third crack at his first championship, his Cleveland Cavaliers swept aside by San Antonio in 2007 just a couple of weeks before Durant was drafted by the then-Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Durant and James insist the series is more than an individual matchup and the All-Star talent around them supports the claim. But the focus will be on James, the three-time MVP in his third shot at a championship, and Durant, the three-time scoring champion who is playing for his first at age 23.
It’s the first time the MVP and scoring champ have met in the finals since 1997, when Michael Jordan’s Bulls knocked off MVP Karl Malone and Utah.
“Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup of me versus LeBron, but it’s the Thunder versus the Heat,” Durant said. “One guy versus another guy, it’s not going to be a 1-on-1 matchup to win the series, it’s going to be all about the team.”
They are friends and workout partners, play the same small forward position and are blessed with unlimited basketball talent. After years of waiting on a James-Kobe Bryant finals matchup that never materialized, the league gets one that’s perhaps even better, if not quite as sexy, to wrap up a successful season after the lockout.
“Our relationship is really good. Our relationship is going to continue to grow,” James said. “I’m happy to be in this position where I can compete against him.”
Only one can be considered the best player in the game, and it’s probably the guy who walks out of this series as a champion.