LeBron, Durant face off in NBA Finals - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

NBA Finals: Excellence of execution

Kevin Durant leads the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, starting Tuesday. (Source: Keith Allison/Flickr) Kevin Durant leads the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, starting Tuesday. (Source: Keith Allison/Flickr)
Dwyane Wade (3) and LeBron James (6) will be the focal points of the Miami Heat offense in the NBA Finals. (Source: Keith Allison/Flickr) Dwyane Wade (3) and LeBron James (6) will be the focal points of the Miami Heat offense in the NBA Finals. (Source: Keith Allison/Flickr)

(RNN) – The Miracle on Ice. Namath fulfills his prediction. Buster Douglas knocks out Tyson. Valvano runs across the court looking for a hug.

It can be fun to root for the underdog. When one of them overcomes a Goliath-like opponent, it makes for compelling entertainment.

Those moments become part of the legend of sports. They provide fans with the "where were you when" discussions and are dramatized through books, movies and television.

This NBA Finals matchup does not have that kind of storyline.

What it does have are the two best basketball players in the world pitted against each other.

It is the modern-day equivalent of Russell vs. Wilt, Kareem vs. Moses or Magic vs. Bird. And excellence makes for good TV too.

On their way to the finals, Kevin Durant, 23, and LeBron James, 27, ripped the torch out of their predecessors' hands, rather than waiting for it to be passed on to them. The 2012 NBA champion will be the first in 14 years not led by a player from the Duncan-Kobe-Shaq generation.

Don't be surprised to see this new rivalry play out on the league's center stage for years to come.

Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder, Game 1: 9 p.m. ET Tuesday

Durant's Thunder and James' Heat could not have reached this point in more different ways. The Thunder did things "the right way," developing their team via the draft and letting their core players grow up together, while the Heat sunk their money into three established free agents.

The trifecta of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put Miami into the top tier of the league, but it also made anything short of an NBA title seem like a massive failure. The Decision to leave his hometown team in Cleveland only increased public scrutiny on LeBron, who many thought should have a championship ring already.

Meanwhile, Durant quietly ended any speculation he may leave his team one day for a bigger market like Miami, New York or Los Angeles. He signed a five-year extension with the Thunder before the season started.

And while everyone has been waiting for "King James" to ascend to the throne, OKC appears to be ahead of schedule. Its top players – Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – are all 22 or 23 years old.

The Thunder's starting five, with an average age 24.6, would be the second-youngest to win a title in NBA history.

People looking for a team to root against will likely pick the Heat (unless they are from Seattle). But the way the two teams got here should not be measured in right or wrong.

Miami can't be blamed for wanting to form the best possible team, and they did it in similar fashion to the Boston Celtics own version of the Big 3. The Celtics' addition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to their team in 2007 was met with mostly excitement from NBA fans, and the team's ownership was credited for making the moves to get them.

Most of the public vitriol toward LeBron and Co. comes from his primetime announcement and the Miami welcome party – those events became a P.R. nightmare after the fact. But players are applauded for showing emotion, creating excitement and commanding attention on court, then booed for doing the same things off court.

It's the price athletes pay for living their dreams out, and fans have the right to pick their heroes and villains for whatever reason they see fit. But it doesn't make them bad people.


James is one of the most gifted athletes playing any sport. Listed at 6'8" and 250 pounds, he has the strength to handle any defender, force his way to a rebound and still make shots after getting fouled.

What separates him from everyone else are his speed, ball-handling skills and court vision.

He can be trusted to control the ball like a point guard and find teammates for open shots. His ability to get to the basket forces the other team's coach to either defend him with a smaller, faster player LeBron can shoot over or a larger one he can run by.

And he has established himself as one of the NBA's best defenders, making him the most complete player on the hardwood every night.

The biggest questions about his game come from his decision-making in the fourth quarter. He has not shown a consistent desire to carry his teammates in close games and has even appeared to take long stretches off when they need him most.

In his rookie year, Durant entered as one of the best pure scorers the league had seen in decades.

At 6'9" and 235 pounds with long, wiry arms, his lanky appearance disguises his ability to move fluidly and get where he wants to go on offense. He also uses his length to rebound, block shots and force turnovers.

One of his most remarkable traits is his efficiency. The three-time scoring champ shoots at a much higher percentage than other NBA volume scorers in overall field goals, 3-pointers and free throws.

This allows his other teammates to become more involved, preventing them from simply standing around while he takes on the defense by himself. A star player showing confidence in the guys around him can be the difference between good team chemistry and a divided locker room.

He also appears to have a good sense of the moment. He takes over when it's needed and has almost single-handedly won them some big games during the playoffs.

Durant's biggest deficiency comes on defense. Although he has improved in the last two seasons, he is still an average defender than cannot be relied upon to cover the other team's best player.


LeBron, Wade and Bosh will have to take on a larger responsibility on both sides of the court than their Thunder counterparts. Mario Chalmers has emerged as another scoring threat for Miami, but the rest of the roster is not nearly the caliber of OKC's.

James will probably guard Durant, giving him little time to rest. Durant, on the other hand, will let one of his teammates handle the one-on-one defense of James most of the time.

LeBron had a masterful game 6 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and he will need at least four similar performances against the Thunder to take this series. It's asking a lot of anyone to do that, even him.

Thunder win the best-of-seven series, four games to two.

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