(Sports Network) - It's the three-time MVP vs. the three-time scoring champion
as LeBron James and the Miami Heat square off with Kevin Durant and the
Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA's ultimate prize, starting Tuesday in the
The 2012 NBA Finals marks the fifth time since 1967 that the league's scoring
champ and MVP will meet with the Lawrence O'Brien Trophy on the line and the
first time since Michael Jordan's Bulls knocked off MVP Karl Malone and the
Utah Jazz in 1997. Overall the scoring champion has won three out of four past
"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 on Monday. "One guy versus
another guy, it's not going to be a one-on-one matchup to win the series, it's
going to be all about the team."
James, coming off an iconic performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference
finals against Boston, was aided by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on Saturday as
the Heat turned it on late to defeat the Celtics, 101-88, in Game 7 and earn a
trip to The Finals for the second straight season.
The game was tied entering the fourth quarter, where James, Wade and Bosh
combined to score all 28 of Miami's points.
James finished with a game-high 31 for the Heat, who lost to the Mavericks in
last year's finals and are looking to secure their first NBA title since
They will visit the Thunder for Game 1 on Tuesday, looking again to silence
their critics and prove they are capable of the big things expected of them
when the James-Wade-Bosh threesome was put together.
"I don't think we need more motivation," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Last
year is behind us. This is a different journey. We went through the pain, we
went through the evaluation, we went through the recommitment at the beginning
of the year. We survived all these rounds.
"We have a very motivated group because of the opportunity and what we can
accomplish collectively. You get to this point, you expect to play the best,
and that's the way we view them, and I'm sure they view us the same way.
We're looking forward to it."
Oklahoma City's route to The Finals may have been even more improbable than
Miami's comeback against the C's. After all, the Thunder beat a team that
hadn't lost in 50 days four times in one week.
Durant scored 34 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Russell Westbrook added 25
points in Game 6 last Wednesday, as OKC rallied from an 18-point deficit to
win the Western Conference title with a 107-99 victory over San Antonio.
The Spurs hadn't lost a game since April 11 before dropping Game 3 in the
West finals against the Thunder. That loss not only halted the 20-game San
Antonio run, it started a tidal wave the Spurs couldn't stop.
In fact, OKC sprinted through the West by sweeping last year's champ Dallas,
taking the L.A. Lakers in five games and finishing off the Spurs in six, three
teams that are responsible for 10 of the last 13 NBA titles.
"As sad and as disappointed as we are," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after
losing to the Thunder, "it's like a Hollywood script for Oklahoma City."
This marks the Thunder's first NBA Finals berth since they were based in
Seattle as the then-SuperSonics in 1996.
"We've been through so much, the Mavericks, and then playing the Lakers and
playing the best offensive team in basketball in the Spurs," Sixth Man of the
Year James Harden said. "I think we've prepared ourselves to be in this
situation and to play well. We're ready."
Miami and OKC split a pair of regular season meetings with Oklahoma City
forcing 21 turnovers and rolling to a 103-87 victory at home on March 25
before the Heat rallied for a 98-93 win in Miami on April 4.
The 23-year-old Durant, who is in The Finals for the first time, averaged 29
points in those games but turned it over a career-high nine times while
scoring 30 in the second contest. James, who is about to make his third finals
appearance, had 34 points in South Florida, doubling up his output from the
OKC game. Each is expected to defend the other at times in The Finals.
"Kevin's job is to play whoever we have him guard," OKC coach Scott Brooks
said. "He's not one to hide. He knows that he has to be a good defender for
us to win. He's determined to be a special player in this league, and you have
to be a two-way player, just like LeBron. LeBron is a fantastic defender."
Durant and James are friends and workout partners in the offseason but that
will take a backseat as each attempts to stamp his legacy.
Durant is intent on winning his first NBA title and taking James' crown as the
best basketball player on the planet, while James, who lost in The Finals as a
member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to San Antonio in 2007 as well as last
season, wants to hush his critics who say he is a shrinking violet in big
"Obviously, LeBron wants to win a championship," Wade said. "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."
These two franchises have never met in the postseason before and each have one
NBA championship on their resume. The Heat topped the Mavs in six games back
in 2006 while the Thunder won a title in 1979 as the Sonics, besting the
Washington Bullets in five.
"It's great for the NBA," Miami's Shane Battier said of the dream matchup. "I
anticipate record ratings. 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."
Game 2 of the series is set for Thursday in OKC.
The Sports Network