Let the rivalry begin: Can Lebron-Durant compare to Bird-Magic?

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LeBron James and Kevin Durant

Since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and Kevin Durant proved himself as the NBA’s most dangerous offensive weapon, we’ve wanted nothing more than the inevitable NBA Finals matchup pitting these two against each other.  Now that it’s finally here, don’t expect this to be a one-time confrontation.  In reality, this LeBron v. Durant championship showdown—a preview of more Finals matchups to come, no doubt—should be the beginning of a storied NBA rivalry, one that could ultimately evoke memories of the Bird-Magic duels of the 80s.

Is there really any doubt these two players are the best in the league right now?  Derrick Rose is coming off an ACL tear, Chris Paul’s knees have an unfortunately short shelf life and Dwight Howard is busy trying to date supermodels despite already committing to another year on the lease of his girlfriend’s apartment.  Even as their superstar teammates let loose a roar from time to time, everyone knows Durant and LeBron are the league’s unquestioned alpha dogs.

Just ask San Antonio, who couldn’t handle Durant no matter who or how many they threw at him, supporting Gregg Popovich’s opinion that OKC’s offense was the toughest he’s faced in his tenure with the Spurs. With deadly shooting precision that rivals Dirk Nowitzki—a skill that should only improve over time—and finishing ability around the hoop that only LeBron can exceed, there’s no better closer in the game today than KD.  Have I mentioned he’s just 23 years old?

And yet, no player impacts every aspect of every game as profoundly as James, whose chase-down blocks and brilliant passes have somehow made us take his freakish scoring ability for granted.  Say what you will about his fourth quarter performances, but it’s still a testament to LeBron’s brilliance that Miami has reached consecutive NBA Finals amid the Big Three circus.  And despite nine years in the league, he’s still a 27-year-old whose physique couldn’t be more conducive to a lengthy career.

LeBron James Heat

Not only are these megastars the league’s two best players, but their respective conferences are opening up just as Miami and OKC prepare to peak.  The West’s old guard of the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks is crumbling, while Blake Griffin may need more time for polishing than Paul has left in his creaky knees.  Meanwhile, Boston’s Big Three has probably seen its final playoffs together, while Rose’s injury leaves Chicago’s immediate future murky at best.  Even with a healthy Rose, the Bulls couldn’t handle the Heat last year, and you can be sure the Pacers, Hawks and Knicks won’t be able to in the future.

So unless Howard and Deron Williams team up in Brooklyn or find a way to unite in Dallas, the Heat and Thunder should rule their respective conferences for years to come.

bird_magic

But can they even hold a candle to Bird and Magic in the 80s?

From 1980-1989, Larry’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers combined for 8 NBA Championships in 13 Finals appearances (three against each other), while the two took home six of seven MVP trophies from 1984-1990.

LeBron already has three of the last four MVP’s, while Durant has captured three consecutive scoring titles and will inevitably win a few MVP’s of his own.  With their respective ages, taking home five of the next six or seven wouldn’t be out of the question.

As for those title runs, the 2012 Finals will mark the second and third combined appearances for Durant’s Thunder and James’ Heat.  Even if Miami breaks up its Big Three, the Heat might still play in three or four of the next five championship series.  Likewise, Oklahoma City’s core of young talent and Durant’s brilliance could have them in the Finals for six or seven of the next 10 years, even after James Harden’s inevitable departure.

Kevin Durant and LeBron James

Much more important than the numbers, however, will be how often these two match up on the court.  The fact that they play the same position only sweetens the potential drama between them.  LeBron showed his defensive prowess in the playoffs last season, smothering Rose late in games, but can he handle a player as lanky and smooth as Durant?  Could KD guard James through key moments if Scott Brooks decides to let him?  Will Durant’s closing brilliance actually force LeBron to become the fourth quarter scorer we all expect him to be?  Can you imagine the thrill of the league’s most ferocious weapons trading buckets down the stretch of a Game 7?

The Bird-Magic rivalry was greatest because of those moments, when each star fed off the other like the two were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E without any limitations.  Should we be lucky enough to see Durant and James play that same game, the NBA may very well have found its next storied rivalry.

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  1. They also split the regular season. Very interesting.

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