Starting Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat will take to the hardwood to determine who will become Champions of the Association for the 2011-2012 campaign. Within that war going on between the two teams; there will be an individual battle taking place between arguably the two best players in the NBA, Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant and the current NBA MVP, Heat forward LeBron James. Both players will be hoping to end the match-up with their first Championship rings, with James in his third NBA Finals while Durant is visiting the Big Dance for the first time.
Although neither player can single-handedly win their club an NBA Title, the competition that goes on between the two small forwards will be a focal point of the entire series, as both players attempt to lead their squads to victory. This series will also mark the first time in James’ nine-year career in the Association, that he will be competing in a true rivalry, as he takes on the Thunder forward man-on-man for the entire match-up.
Back in the beginning of the 2003-2004 campaign, the NBA tried to manufacture a rivalry between two high-profile members of their rookie class, as the Association promoted games between Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets taking on James who was then playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, the two teams only played each other twice every season and the only way they would meet in the Playoffs would be for both teams to face each other in the Finals. Needless, to say the “rivalry” never gained any traction and was soon forgotten along with the competition the Association tried to promote between former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and forward Yi Jian-Lian, drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks.
This time however, there is no need for the hype-machine of the Association to try to build this situation up, as both players will play key roles in the success; or lack of, for their teams. Each player realizes the responsibility they shoulder and that the victor of their personal battle could very well determine the outcome of the Finals.
James will be looking for redemption after his self-admitted poor performance last year in the Championship round, as the Heat fell to the Dallas Mavericks. Durant will be looking to win a Title his first time in the Finals; following the example of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan among other NBA greats. We shall find out the results starting Tuesday night, as a series that looks to be a great match-up gets underway.