This is the dream matchup for the NBA. You have arguably the best team from the West playing against arguably the best team in the East. And each side boasts arguably the two best players in the game.
The NBA Finals has not had this kind of salacious showdown since Magic Johnson’s Lakers faced Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1991. Twenty-one years ago, a hard-charging Jordan outdueled Magic, who was a few months away from retirement, to capture his first NBA title. The 2012 matchup between Kevin Durant’s Thunder and LeBron James’ Heat involves two superstars in the prime of their careers hungry to win their first championship rings.
No disrespect to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, but this year’s NBA Finals series is all about LeBron, the three-time league MVP, and Durant, the three-time scoring champion.
“Yeah, that’s a sexier matchup I guess,” Durant said. “But I don’t read newspapers. I don’t get on Twitter anymore. I just focus on what I need to do.”
The last time Durant posted something on his Twitter account was May 1. LeBron’s Twitter account hasn’t been touched since April 27. Both young men have been razor sharp in the postseason, with James averaging more than 30 points per game while Durant has already produced three game-winning baskets.
James averaged 25 points and eight assists against OKC during the regular season, while Durant averaged 29 points and six rebounds. The Heat are coming off a hard-fought seven-game series against the Celtics, while the Thunder dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks says Durant will definitely guard LeBron in the series, but the Thunder will need all hands on deck to slow down the 6-foot-8, 265-pound locomotive who wears No. 6 on the Heat.
“Kevin is a gym rat. He’s always looking for a challenge,” Brooks said. “It’s definitely a matchup that is enjoyable to see and how it turns out. If Kevin has a bad shooting night it’s probably because they played great team defense on him.
“They’re both great players. They’re both driven and hungry basketball players.”
After what transpired in last year’s Finals, there is a ton of pressure on James to win now. He has already failed once as a member of the Cavaliers and last year as a Heat. He is hoping the third time is a charm.
“I didn’t play well. I think I’ve said that 100 times this year,” James said of his 2011 NBA Finals meltdown against Dallas.
“I didn’t make enough game-changing plays that I know I’m capable of making and I felt like I let my teammates down,” he continued. “‘I’m happy and I’m humbled that I can actually be back in this position less than 12 months later to do a better job of making more plays, more game-changing plays out on the floor on a bigger stage. So we’ll see what happens.”
For Durant, he is four games away from winning his first title before his 24th birthday but he has to go through his good friend LeBron to accomplish his ultimate goal.
“He can score at will. He’s strong, can shoot it. I have to play my hardest every possession. I can’t take any possessions off,” Durant said of James, who worked out with the Thunder superstar during the summer and served as his mentor.
”Our relationship is really good,” James said. “Our relationship is going to continue to grow and I’m happy to be in this position where I can compete against him.”
Great players rise to the challenge, and the series will likely come down to Durant and James. The championship will come down to which superstar shines the brightest.