Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
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."
Both 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 league title at age 23.
It's the first time the MVP and scoring champ have met in the Finals since 1997, when Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls knocked off MVP Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz.
"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.
"It's great for the NBA," Miami's Shane 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.
"There's so many young, great players in this league and established players and All-Stars. If you're a basketball fan, you're missing out if you're not watching this series."
Both have sworn off Twitter, at least for the time being, James posted his last message on April 27 and Durant on May 1.
For now, KingJames and KDTrey5 will stick to making their statements on the court.
"Kevin is locked in on what he needs to do to help the team win," Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook said. "It's going to be a great series for both teams and hopefully we can come out with the win."
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.
James fell short again last year in his first season with Miami, then carried the Heat to another chance with victories in the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, starting with a sensational, 45-point, 15-rebound Game 6 performance in Boston.
"You know, third time in the Finals in nine years, there's a lot of guys who don't get there once," 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."
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