What most basketball fans seem to be hoping for is that tonight begins a critical new chapter in NBA history: KD vs. LBJ.
In 2012, LeBron still has ‘the conn’. He’s the best player, 3x MVP, Olympic Gold Medalist, one of the 20 greatest ever[i]… while Durant has visions of those achievements he’s still clearly in 2nd place right now. That’s as it should be though, both in the sense of a natural progression and in terms of building interest.
The best outcome for the development of this rivalry is the one I anticipate happening. LeBron wins. (Yes, of course, that means Miami wins but in the world of NBA marketing, it’s LeBron.) If LeBron wins, he’ll be elevated out of the circle of Greatest Non-Champions[ii]. However, if he loses, he’ll be 0-3 in the Finals. That would be an extraordinary weight to bear.
If Durant wins, he’ll be considered among the most precocious champions ever but he still won’t be in the inner circle of that group[iii]. If Durant loses, that’ll be seen as perfectly fine! OKC is so young that reaching the Finals is a tremendous accomplishment in itself and the battle to climb the last peak will be a dominant storyline next season.
One juicy subplot that’s not received much attention yet is highly intriguing to me. This summer, Durant and James are both on the US Men’s Olympic team. They’re both incredibly well equipped for the international game and likely to share minutes, leadership and practice time. How different will London be if James’ Heat are champions or if Durant’s Thunder have the rings?
KD vs. LBJ. Sounds great to me.
[i] Please don’t try to find 20 better players. You can’t.
[ii] Guys like Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins, Stockton-to-Malone… Very good company.
[iii] Kareem, Bird, Magic… AMAZING company!
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat: The Summer Storm Series
I have no idea what’s gonna happen in this series.
There, I admitted it. No one else seems to be able to acknowledge how confusing these playoffs have been but I think the shifts in momentum and pressure have been extraordinary and difficult to anticipate.
Just consider that 2 weeks ago, many folks in the media were openly wondering if the Spurs could go through the playoffs undefeated[i]. The Thunder were too young and Russell Westbrook too egotistical, Scott Brooks couldn’t make in game coaching moves and the post combo of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka didn’t score enough. Remember all that talk? Now, Charles Barkley is openly asking Tim Duncan to retire and the Spurs are being written off (again) as championship contenders going forward. The Thunder are being ordained as a likely dynasty and Kevin Durant is being anointed as the true heir to Kobe Bryant as the NBA’s next great winner.[ii]
Last week’s primary dramas centered on the Heat’s failings. Many pundits questioned which of Miami’s Big Three would be sent packing this summer, along with Coach Erik Spoelstra. Falling behind 3-2 to the Boston Celtics apparently meant that the Heat’s team building model was fatally flawed and the Heat would suffer accordingly. LeBron James’ Game 5 fiasco[iii] continued to reveal him as a “master of panic”[iv]. That all changed when Miami won two incredibly impressive victories and appear to be clicking as at no other time in the playoffs.
All this is to say that over the course of the last 4, 5, 6 or 7 games of this NBA season, we’re likely to see an amazing variety of twists and turns. In basketball more than any other major American sport, change happens abruptly. One half, one quarter or even one shot can transform a game. That’s part of the joy of basketball!
To my way of thinking, there are more Heat players who can transform a game. In a series with rough equalities across the board, I think that matters quite a bit. Combining that with an edge in experience, desperation and the one player who can do everything on the court, I anticipate a Miami victory. Perhaps the end of the Thunder’s season will mirror last year’s as they lose to the eventual champs on the road. That means I’m gonna ride with Liam’s Mum[v] and predict Miami winning in 5 games.
I’m not sure I believe it either.
[i] I tried to link to the discussion on ESPN’s First Take but the video’s been removed. Should I feel surprised?
[ii] I think Tim Duncan should feel offended by this whole line of reasoning. Duncan has been the best player for 4 championship teams. Kobe’s been the best for 2 titlists.
[iii] His game high 30 points and game high 13 rebounds would be considered extraordinary for anyone else.
[iv] Shaq’s derisive comment about his former coach Stan Van Gundy has been applied to James numerous times.
[v] It’s an ESPN’s Mike and Mike joke.