Durant: Finals about teams, not Lebron matchup
BY KELLY HINES World Sports Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
6/12/12 at 8:57 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - Kevin Durant doesn't care for the hype surrounding his looming superstar showdown with LeBron James in the NBA finals.
"Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup or me versus LeBron, but it's the Thunder versus the Heat," Durant said Monday. "It's not going to be a one‑on‑one matchup to win the series. It's going to be all about the team."
But when Oklahoma City and Miami meet in Game 1 on Tuesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the primary focus will be on James, the three-time MVP, and Durant, the three-time scoring champion.
"That's good basketball, to see Kevin and LeBron go at each other," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "... I'm sure they're going to guard each other quite a bit in this series, but it's not going to come down to one guy guarding one guy. It's going to be how we guard their team and vice-versa.
"But it's a matchup that definitely will be enjoyable to see and see how it turns out."
The pair has been friends since Durant's high-school days, and much ado also has been made over them working out together in Ohio during the offseason.
"Yeah, he invited me to come out there and have a chance to work out with one of the top players," Durant said. "It's something you've got to take advantage of. I always want to get better no matter what, and that's what we did."
Said James: "From Day 1, I always lent my hand out to guide him if he needed it, to help him, to mentor him if he needed it through anything, and that's on and off the floor. ... Our relationship is really good. Our relationship is going to continue to grow, and I'm happy to be in this position where I can compete against him."
Playing in his third NBA finals, including a second in as many years with Miami, provides a chance for James to silence the many critics - although he said that's not his concern.
"I played too much to prove people wrong last year, instead of just playing my game and doing what needs to be done," he said. "... In this series, I'm going to play my game, try to do whatever it takes on both ends to make plays and help us win.
"And at the end of the day, whatever the results happen, I'm going to be satisfied with that. I'm going to be happy with it because I know I'm going to give it my all, and I won't leave nothing behind."
In the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, James averaged 33.57 points. While dropping 45 points in Game 6, he shot 73.1 percent, the highest field-goal percentage in his postseason career.
"He can score at will," Durant said. "I've got to play my hardest every possession. No possessions off."
Even in the fourth quarter, despite James' perceived shortcomings in the period. In Game 7, he combined with the rest of the Big Three - Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - to score all 28 of Miami's fourth-quarter points to clinch the series.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City's trio of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is averaging 67.1 points in the playoffs.
"We've always done everything as a team," Brooks said. "That's what makes us a good team - that we defend as a team, we're continuing to improve offensively as a team - but it's always about our guys in the locker room."
After falling to the eventual NBA champion in the past two postseasons, the Thunder is making its first finals appearance.
"We will embrace this challenge, but we're not here just to be here," Brooks said. "We're here to win a championship.
"We've been together now for four years and we haven't got to this level, but we're here because of the work they've put in. They're not going to be intimidated with the stage of an NBA finals. They know what's at stake."
2012 NBA FINALS: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER VS. MIAMI HEAT
8 p.m. Tuesday, at Oklahoma City
8 p.m. Thursday, at Oklahoma City
7 p.m. Sunday, at Miami
8 p.m. June 19, at Miami
8 p.m. June 21, at Miami
7 p.m. June 24, at Oklahoma City
8 p.m. June 26, at Oklahoma City
* IF NECESSARY
Original Print Headline: More than a matchup
Kelly Hines 918-581-8452
Kevin Durant (left) and LeBron James, two of the game's best, square off beginning Tuesday night in the NBA finals. CHRIS O'MEARA / Associated Press
Kevin Durant guards LeBron James during a 2008 game between Cleveland and Seattle. MARK DUNCAN / Associated Press