April 4, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) talks with Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) during the third quarter at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant: The Battle for Best Basketball Player Alive

Does LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant = Good vs. Evil?

This is an easy headline to grab at given how much vitriol and hatred have been shot Lebron’s way the past two years, and given the youth, likability, and spotlessness of Durant. (It’s also fitting given how much Pat Riley looks like the devil in a suit.)

It is harder to reconcile when you consider what LeBron has accomplished this year. He has been arguably one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the game this year; he turned the Heat from an average defensive team to one of the best in the league, and this is all while not having a true defensive-minded center to control the paint. The Heat’s defense is suffocating one main reason: LeBron James is capable of guarding almost any player in the NBA.

LeBron also managed to have one of the most statistically impressive and efficient seasons in NBA history; he is shooting the highest FG% and 3-point FG% of his career, and has upped his rebounding numbers as well. Then there are the playoffs; LeBron dropped 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists on the Celtics in Game 6, which hasn’t been done in the playoffs since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964. He followed that up with 31 points and a dominant 4th quarter in Game 7 that sealed the Heat’s second consecutive trip to the Finals. He is the best all-around player in the NBA, and will be a chore for the Thunder to defend, especially since he has hit an all-time high level in these playoffs. He has somehow surpassed all of our expectations of what he could become individually. He has also done most of it(except Game 6) with the smile on his face that we were used to seeing in his Cavaliers uniform, and told SI earlier this year that he has gotten back to playing with that sense of joy and freedom. In these playoffs, LeBron has shown moments of combining that joy and freedom with a sense of purpose that we have seen in the past from NBA champions.

Durant, on the other hand, is the NBA’s three-time scoring champion at the tender age of 23. He is also on the better team, which would have been difficult for anyone to imagine when the Heat formed their super-team two summers ago. He plays selflessly, hugs his mom after every game, and loves the coach, teammates, and organization that he was drafted by(cough…cough). Durant plays with a smoothness and there is a sense that whenever he goes up for a shot anywhere near the lane or 3-point line, that it will probably go in. The San Antonio Spurs learned that lesson the hard way; Scott Brooks said that the Thunder have really improved their passing game after watching endless tape on the Spurs, and how they are able to disrupt the other team’s defense with how swiftly the ball swings around the court.

The battle between the two small forward superstars should be one for the ages. We only got to see these two play 2 games against each other this year, and hopefully this series goes all 7 games. I can’t imagine another way I’d rather spend my June than watching these two battle for the “Best basketball player alive” title. Can you?

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