Fast forward twenty years and once again we have the two best players in the world who also play the same position going head to head and this scenario is more mouthwatering than Jordan-Drexler: Lebron James vs Kevin Durant. James, the most physically gifted athlete since Wilt, is coming off a trememendous series vs Boston in the ECF. James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career; 30-10 pretty much every night and the virtuoso 45-point Game 6 to save elimination. He seems to have a different focus, a different approach than he had in Cleveland and certainly more assured than last year vs Dallas. Durant is clearly playing the best basketball of his young career as he has led the Thunder past the last three NBA champions to come from the West. He is a three time scoring champ has shown an ability to close like no one else in the league. It is only basketball justice that the preeminent all-around player and the preeminent scorer will meet head to head. Shane Battier and Thabo Sefalosha will not be needed. This is mano e mano, they way it should be.
This series also gives the classic "Good vs Evil" scenario. The "Good" being the arrival of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young pups from the medium size Midwestern town built from the ground up (Try to ignore that they were stolen from Seattle, its difficult I know). Their core players are comprised of dudes who are not old enough to rent cars (Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka James Harden). Their creaky backup point guard has a chance to win one more ring than his long time teammate and current black hat Kobe Bryant. They have the unquestioned best fan base who support their team because its all they have. OKC home games are an experience even if you have never stepped into their gym. The "Evil" of course is the Miami Heat. The ill-conceived "Decision" of July 2010 has created almost 24 months of angst, animosity, and hatred for James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh ( I mean if i could live in South Beach with my best friends, be at the top of profession for millions of $$ I would too but I digress). They are the team that was bought together and brought together. They had the rally before a ball was bounced in 2010. Their perceived failures have been fodder for talkshow and photoshop artists everywhere. But when you look through the "noise", you see three of the best twenty in the world who when they are on as they were in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of ECF are the best trio in the game.
The questions and matchups are a hoop head's dream. Can Dwyane Wade do it again? Unlike Boston who had to double team him, the Thunder can use Sefalosha, Westbrook, Harden in different spots. Wade, who has has moments of brillance and moments of spotty play, is capable of going off but can he do it against three athletic (younger) players constantly in his face. Wade has been a giant in Finals past but at age 30 and a balky knee, can he muster consistantly great performances one more series. Is Bosh ready to carry the load upfront? Bosh was tremendous in Game Seven vs Celtics, 19 points and 8 rebounds doesnt justify how big an impact he had. Now he must play bigger minutes and give a similar effort six or seven times. Does he have the stamina coming off the injury to do so?
Oh dont get it twisted, there are questions for the Thunder too. Can Kevin Durant keep Lebron James at bay on the defensive end or do the Thunder risk playing James with Ibaka? This is a huge concern for the Thunder. When Ibaka was off the floor vs Spurs, the Spurs went to the basket repeatedly. Durant has to be able to do at least a credible job on James. If Durant can't and forces a switch, it takes a way the best shot blocker in the league. More importantly, will Durant wear down guarding James and have it take its toll on his offense, the way it did Paul Pierce? When does the youth catch up to Thunder? The number one Heat fan I know Mosi ( you can check him hear at http://miami-heat-index.blogspot.com/) have had this debate. I am a believe in having old heads on your team (maybe not D-Fish old) to settle a young team. Mos believes in the "if you are good enough, you are old enough" theory http://miami-heat-index.blogspot.com/2012/02/heat-check-is-time-on-side-of-miami-or.html. The Thunder have played with maturity for the majority of the playoffs with the occasional appearance of youthful mistakes. This now the Finals, is this when you get more of their youth showing? They won't be overwhelmed but maybe overanxious and it costs them a game at home which could be crucial
Regardless as to where your allegiances lie or your level of interest, if you are fan of competition and high drama, subplots, and watching the best in the world perform, then this series is for you. There are going to be plenty of outlets who will talk on the pressure on Lebron, "youth is served", who should be taking the shot, which young coach is under the most pressure (clearly Spolestra but we have to ask these things) etc , etc but even if you ran through every sports cliche there are still 1001 reasons you should be tuned into this. So come Tuesday night, enjoy yourself Heat Haters, Heat Lovers, Thunder haters (mostly in Seattle, sorry), conspiracy theorists, casual fans. I guarantee there is something in it for you