It feels like ages ago, but NBA basketball was almost taken away from all of us when the lockout threatened to wipe out the 2011-2012 season. With all the amazing events and drama that unfolded this season from Linsanity, Kobe’s resurgence to Dwightmare, it’s hard to believe they nearly let it all go to waste. The season did happen, though, and here we are at the final stage to watch two of the very best players in the league go at it.
Assuming the absolute worst of the lockout, some players failed to keep themselves in the proper condition to be ready for the truncated season (i.e. Dirk Nowitzki and Andray Blatche). Kevin Durant and LeBron James were not among those players. In fact, as some of you may remember, they got together during the lockout for some very intense workouts, as MVP-caliber players would do.
The work paid off immensely for both players. Durant had the finest season of his career, winning his third consecutive scoring title with 28 points on a career-best 49.6 percent from the field, while setting other career-highs with 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 2 3-point makes per game. He was the MVP of the All-Star game and runner-up for the MVP award. The MVP award, of course, went to James, who shot a career-high 53.1 percent from the field and carried his team throughout the season while his teammates struggled at various times with injuries.
It’s no secret that the two are close and have the utmost respect for each other, from Ira Winderman of Sun Sentinel:
James downplayed this being some sort of showdown with Kevin Durant for bragging rights. “I don’t really get involved in ‘best player of the game.’ It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. But he said he wants to be the best player in each game he plays.
James, on his relationship with Durant, “Our relationship has been growing since he’s been in high school. . . . From Day One, I always laid my hand out to guide him if he needed it.”
Durant, on those offseason workouts with James, “Just two guys who wanted to get better, and that’s what we did.” ”
Durant, on James, “He can score at will. He’s strong. He can shoot it. But it’s got to be a team effort.”
Durant, on envisioning a Finals matchup when he worked with James, “I never really thought about it. . . . It’s the Thunder vs. the Heat. It’s not going to be a one-on-one matchup to win the series.”
Durant may not think or admit that it’s a personal matchup against James, but the two are the most important players in the series, and how they perform against each other will likely determine who will end up a champion this season. While the friendship in the off-season will surely remain intact, make no mistake that going into this series (and perhaps for many years to come), they will have to be enemies. Based on the incredibly competitive nature of both players, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. In any case, Tuesday night will set the tone for the beginning of a great new rivalry.
Game 1 is set for tonight at 9 p.m ET. For a complete breakdown of the series and staff predictions, click here.
To see a video of LeBron James’ dribbling tutorial, click here.
For Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett as a possible duo in San Antonio, click here.
James Park is a regular contributor and blogger for SheridanHoops.com. You can follow him on twitter @nbatupark.