Here it is fans, the main event. In one corner King James, battling longtime nemesis the Durantula. Marvel Comics aren’t written this good. If there’s a reason fans and analysts have been hoping for an Oklahoma City Thunder/Miami HEAT Finals, it’s because of the pure entertainment derived from watching these two superstars collide for up to 7 final nights of the NBA 2012 season.
James and Durant share many common elements, most of which is that they both score high with efficiency from just about anywhere which made the MVP ballot all the more interesting this season. From there, however their roads split:
LeBron James = Pick Your Poison.
When LBJ is playing, it is PYP. He has rediscovered his stride and identity this year following the championship loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Critical of himself and his ‘bad-guy’ alter-ego, James returned to his roots and rediscovered his appetite for fun-loving basketball.
LeBron’s time spent in the gym working on his post-game has paid off this season, where he has developed a strong post-game with substantial results and improved efficiency. His tendencies to drive and shoot/pass over the tempting 16-20 foot jump shot are part of the reason he has been so uncontainable this post season. He will still bring defenses away as his 3 point touch is dangerous, but if they get too close the locomotive gains momentum toward the paint, then it’s a layup, dunk or foul shots. On defense, he brings the ability to guard any player or position where as of late he has excelled. The league has “witnessed” domination from James like no other time in his career, posting team-leading totals in 4 of the 5 critical categories. Thus his MVP status this year, and perhaps the new driving force on this HEAT Team.
Kevin Durant = Lights Out Shooting
If LeBron James is the utility-infielder for the HEAT, Kevin Durant is starting shortstop. Durant’s abilities are much more specialized and refined, which has been the epicenter of OKC basketball for the past 5 seasons. His abilities and execution have improved over his short NBA tenure, getting to the level of superstars like LeBron with his inside/outside shooting domination. His style is more spot-up and drive, but he hits with surgeon like accuracy. His point totals this year made him a viable runner-up to LeBron for the MVP award this year, spurring arguments on who was most deserving for the latter half.
The delta for both players however is not on the side with the ball, but the side guarding it. LeBron’s ability to guard the 5 as well as the 1, and anyone in between could prove to be the tipping point in this series. James excels at defense and any matchup against Durant will be an interesting one to watch. First meeting this season, LeBron scored 17 and Durant 28, end result was an OKC win. Little over a week later in the rematch LeBron scores 34, Durant nets 30 this time for an OKC Loss. With such a limited sample size of these two head-to-head, it’s hard to decipher who will gain the edge and what the stat-line should look like to predict any result. It might be as simple as James guarding everyone on OKC while outscoring Durant being the only way Miami can win this series (much easier said than done!). Durant might need to shut down the LeBron James machine at every turn for OKC to have the edge (not much easier!). Regardless, with their horsepower and intrinsic value to their respective teams, the end result of rings or no-rings lies squarely on their shoulders in a tight 2012 NBA Finals. Regardless of who takes the banner, NBA fans will be the biggest winners of all.