Reporting Tim Kephart
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OKLAHOMA CITY (CBSMiami) – An entire nation of sports fans is currently debating which NBA superstar, LeBron James or Kevin Durant, will lead their team to a championship starting Tuesday night.
Just don’t expect Durant and LeBron to get too wound up in the hoopla surrounding the matchup between them.
“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 Monday. “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.”
It’s a refreshing change in sports when two of the game’s best players are also two of the most unselfish players on the court.
“There’s so many young, great players in this league and established players and All-Stars,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “If you’re a basketball fan, you’re missing out if you’re not watching this series.”
The matchup of KD and LeBron will be the first time the NBA MVP and the NBA scoring champion have met in the finals since 1997. The Heat hope for a different outcome this year because in 1997, the scoring champion, Michael Jordan & the Bulls, knocked off the MVP, Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz.
Both players have retreated from Twitter as the long anticipated matchup nears. KD and LeBron are friends off the court and played and trained together during the lockout.
The star-studded matchup couldn’t be better for the NBA which is finishing off a tough, lockout-shortened season.
“It’s great for the NBA,” Battier said. “I anticipate record ratings, which is great, so maybe we can get some of the escrow check back from the owners. First and foremost, that’s why I’m excited to see Kevin Durant versus LeBron James. But selfish reasons aside, it’s just a great matchup.”
James famously flamed out in last year’s NBA Finals. He disappeared for several games and averaged around 17 points through the Finals. A repeat performance like that would make ESPN and Skip Bayless happy, but it’s no likely given LeBron’s play thus far in the playoffs.
“I didn’t play well. 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,” LeBron said.
LeBron has played for the championship twice before, losing in 2007 and in 2011. But this year, LeBron has been playing like a man possessed with one vision of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in a parade through downtown Miami.
His teammates recognize what LeBron has accomplished thus far and want to help him finally get to the top of the mountain.
“You know, third time in the finals in nine years, there’s a lot of guys who don’t get there once,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Of course, that right there in itself is an honor. But you want to win one. You want to get there and win one. Obviously, LeBron wants to win a championship. I can’t say that he wants to win more than the next man, than anybody on OKC. I can’t say that. But obviously he wants to win and get another opportunity. I’m sure he will try to seize it a little bit better than he did the first two times.”
James’ maturity on and off the court has shown during 2012 and he’s also reached out to Durant to offer him help and guidance ever since he entered the league as the number 2 overall pick.
“Our relationship is really good,” LeBron said of Durant. “Our relationship is going to continue to grow and I’m happy to be in this position where I can compete against him.”
James knows it’s going to take a lot more from him to get the Heat to the next level.
“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,” James said.
Regardless of what happens when the final horn sounds and a champion is crowned at some point in the next two weeks, NBA fans and players will be treated to a dazzling display from the two best players in the game.
“I think it’s going to bring the best out of both of them, and it’s going to be the best for the game,” Wade said, “and it’s going to be a great show.”
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)