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 their teams 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 its going to be a great matchup, Miamis Dwyane Wade said Monday. I think its going to be two players thats going to be tough to guard each other thats 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 at age 23.
Its the first time the MVP and scoring champ have met in the finals since 1997, when Michael Jordans Bulls knocked off MVP Karl Malone and Utah.
Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup of me versus LeBron, but its the Thunder versus the Heat, Durant said. One guy versus another guy, its not going to be a 1-on-1 matchup to win the series; its 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 thats perhaps even better, if not quite as sexy, to wrap up a successful season after the lockout.
Its great for the NBA, Miamis 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, thats why Im excited to see Kevin Durant versus LeBron James. But selfish reasons aside, its just a great matchup.
Theres so many young, great players in this league and established players and All-Stars. If youre a basketball fan, youre missing out if youre 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. Its 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, theres a lot of guys who dont 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 cant say that he wants to win more than the next man, than anybody on OKC. I cant say that. But obviously he wants to win and get another opportunity. Im sure he will try to seize it a little bit better than he did the first two times.
A disappointment last year in the Heats six-game loss to Dallas, James has said hes been in a better frame of mind this season and is looking forward to making up for his previous failure.
I didnt play well. I didnt make enough game-changing plays that I know Im capable of making, and I felt like I let my teammates down, he said.
Im happy, and Im 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 well see what happens.
Though their core of Durant, 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.
With signs backing the Thunder hanging from buildings throughout the city, Oklahoma City has watched Durant grow up from the player who arrived here as the rookie of the year. He received some guidance along the way from James, who reached out to him as a high schooler and then invited him to his home in Akron, Ohio, to work out last summer.
For me, I understood what the situation he was getting himself into being drafted as high he was and the things that came with being drafted to a team that needed a marquee player or superstar, James said. You know, from Day 1, I always lent my hand out to guide him if he needed it through anything, and thats on and off the floor, because to that point I seen everything, and Im still learning, but Ive seen everyone on and off the floor.
Our relationship is really good. Our relationship is going to continue to grow, and Im happy to be in this position where I can compete against him.
Only one can be considered the best player in the game, and its probably the guy who walks out of this series as a champion.
I think its going to bring the best out of both of them, and its going to be the best for the game, Wade said, and its going to be a great show.