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LeBron, Du­rant mov­ing to­ward NBA Fi­nals re­union


Kevin Du­rant ad­mires LeBron James from afar, mar­veling at how Cleve­land’s main man finds ways to el­e­vate his game at age 32 — year af­ter year, ti­tle af­ter ti­tle.

Kobe Bryant was much the same.

Ten years into his NBA jour­ney, the unas­sum­ing, scor­ing ma­chine ev­ery­one calls “KD”, strives to em­u­late those su­per­stars. Soon, he will likely see James again in the Fi­nals, this time in a matchup that has been talked about from the very mo­ment Du­rant de­parted Ok­la­homa City to join Golden State last July.

The an­tic­i­pa­tion of this po­ten­tial matchup has over­shad­owed other post-sea­son se­ries.

Du­rant un­der­stands that like LeBron and Kobe, it’s time to take his game to another level. They each have some­thing Du­rant wants.

“It’s a mind­set, when you don’t re­al­ize how old you are or how many years you’ve played or mileage or the mo­ment,” Du­rant said. “You’ve just got to try to keep get­ting bet­ter. You have that mind­set when you step on the court that you want to be the best player on the court. It may not hap­pen ev­ery game. You may not be the best, you might not have the best game, but just hav­ing that mind­set you never get sat­is­fied with what you do.

“That’s the mind­set he (James) has taken on, that’s the mind­set Kobe did. There’s a lot of other play­ers that did it. I feel like I’m on the same path as far as — I wouldn’t say I’m go­ing to have four MVPs or three cham­pi­onships, I’m not guar­an­tee­ing that but I want that. On the bas­ket­ball court, I want to be con­sis­tent and great ev­ery night.”

James and Du­rant have squared off 23 times dur­ing their NBA ca­reers, and James has a de­ci­sive 18-5 edge, in­clud­ing 4-1 in the post-sea­son and 1-0 in bat­tles for the cham­pi­onship.

Now the bas­ket­ball world is watch­ing and wait­ing, even hop­ing for a Du­rant-James re­match. And this one could live up to the hype.

Af­ter swat­ting aside their op­po­nents in the first and sec­ond rounds, the Cava­liers and War­riors stand an un­blem­ished 16-0 com­bined as they await their con­fer­ence fi­nals op­po­nents.

The 3-Match. Another must­see, best-of-seven se­ries fea­tur­ing ar­guably the league’s best play­ers in James and Du­rant — both play­ing some of the best bas­ket­ball of their ca­reers — and a mar­quee All-Star cast that in­cludes two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irv­ing, Dray­mond Green, Klay Thomp­son and Kevin Love.

It’s a show­down made in hoops heaven, but Du­rant is down­play­ing a matchup with James as any­thing wor­thy of steal­ing the spot­light from the oth­ers.

“If we do end up mak­ing it to the Fi­nals and Cleve­land makes it to the Fi­nals, it’s never go­ing to be me ver­sus LeBron,” Du­rant said. “It’s go­ing to be team ver­sus team. It’s not an in­di­vid­ual sport. We’re not play­ing 1-on-1 out there, as much as peo­ple want us to.”

They have his­tory and a ri­valry — al­beit a rather onesided one. James, then with the Mi­ami Heat, won the first of his three NBA ti­tles by beat­ing Du­rant’s Ok­la­homa City Thunder in 2012.

The pair is linked by tal­ent, tenac­ity and drive. Olympic gold medal-win­ning team­mates, they have be­come close friends and work­out com­pan­ions. They spent two sum­mers push­ing each other dur­ing train­ing ses­sions in James’ home­town of Akron, Ohio. Lit­tle did these two re­al­ize then that their stel­lar NBA ca­reers would be­come even more in­ter­twined when Du­rant bolted from OKC and faced the con­stant scru­tiny that came with his de­ci­sion.

In many ways, James ac­tu­ally helped show him how it’s done.

He as much as any­one un­der­stood the tor­nado of crit­i­cism aimed at Du­rant for sign­ing onto a “su­per team” to chase a cham­pi­onship. James left home in 2010 for Mi­ami, where he won two ti­tles and played in four straight Fi­nals be­fore lead­ing Cleve­land to its first ma­jor sports cham­pi­onship in 52 years.

Be­fore re­turn­ing to Ok­la­homa City — a place he still holds dear and sup­ports — ear­lier this sea­son to face fans who are still stung and feel be­trayed, Du­rant sought James out for ad­vice on han­dling the ha­tred.

Now they’re on a path to­ward Cavs-Dubs 3.0.


In this Jan­uary 2011 file photo, Mi­ami Heat for­ward LeBron James (right) shoots over Ok­la­homa City Thunder for­ward Kevin Du­rant in the first quar­ter of an NBA game in Ok­la­homa City.

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