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Rarely are basketball fans treated to an NBA Finals tussle between the two best scorers in the league. When LeBron James and Kevin Durant face off tonight, it will be the first time an MVP and the scoring champ opposed each other in the Finals since Michael Jordan and Karl Malone (who won an MVP mostly because voters were tired of giving it to MJ) did it in 1997.
"If you're a basketball fan, you're missing out if you're not watching this series," said the Miami Heat's Shane Battier on Monday.
Making the James-Durant series all the more notable is the fact that the two will guard each other throughout the Finals and worked out together in Akron, Ohio, James' hometown, during last year's NBA lockout. "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."
Their relationship has been in the spotlight heading into the Finals, as has their simultaneous suspension of social media habits. James has not tweeted since April 27, while Durant has been Twitter-silent since April 30. That really does not have anything to do with basketball, but be warned that the ABC TV crew will probably mention it at least twice during the series.
"I think it's going to be a great matchup," James' teammate Dwyane Wade said. "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."
James won the MVP, his third, by averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, to go with a league-best player efficiency rating (PER) of 31.00 (best in the league). Durant scored 28.0 points a game to win the scoring title, his third. He also had 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, with a PER of 26.39.
Durant played down the individual match-up against James. "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."
James spoke more about his personal growth on the eve of the Finals, comparing himself to the James of a year ago when the Heat fell in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. "I didn't play well," he said. "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 said.
"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."
Between the possible redemption of James and the Big Three, and the potential coronation of Durant and the upstart Thunder, the NBA could not have asked for a better storyline in the Finals.
The action starts tonight at 9 p.m.