Too often these days, sports teams get personified in individuals — quarterback wins, though none since Sammy Baugh have also played defense and special teams; this star won this many rings/Cups, that star has won none, as if neither have teammates.
Then you get a game such as Wednesday’s Heat home game against Oklahoma City, which invites the UFC promotional treatment: tonight’s cagers! KD vs. King James! Thunder vs. Heat!
“He’s a great guy to compete against,” the Heat’s LeBron James said of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. “I wish I could compete against him every night because he brings that competitive nature out.”
Dwyane Wade will start for the Heat. And, the numbers say Chris Bosh, though not as historically prolific as Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, has been almost as efficient offensively. In this rare game matching two teams that might meet in the NBA Finals, it’s hard to pull the spotlight off the matchup of each team’s best player.
As far as this game, Durant’s dealing in points at a wholesale rate, pouring in over 30 points in 11 consecutive games. His six 40-point games lead the league and back on Jan. 17, he dropped a 54-point night on Golden State.
“He’s in a zone right now,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “You try to take away the easy ones. You just can’t have careless turnovers. If he gets on the break and gets an easy dunk, that can get him going. Try not to unnecessarily foul him in the bonus to give him free throws and let him get in a rhythm. You understand, he’s going to hit some tough shots. You just want to make him work and be as inefficient as possible.”
James agreed: “That’s all you can do. Individually, he can’t be stopped by any one-on-one player. It’s going to be a team thing. I’m going to be matched up against him, but I have to have ears and eyes behind me to know where my help is coming from.”
Yet minutes after saying that, James paused his breakdown of Oklahoma City’s defense with a low, slow, “I don’t like to talk about defensive players. That side of the floor is where I really take a lot of responsibility, and I don’t like to do too much comparing when it comes to defense.”
His determined face betrayed how much the defensive challenge meant.
In the macro sense, Durant’s being recognized for his versatility, the quality in James that took years to gain broader appreciation. He’s had two triple doubles this season and 15 double-doubles. James believes it’s just Durant growing into being fully comfortable in the NBA.
“When you have talent and you work at that talent, things become second nature for you to go out and play,” James said. “KD rebounding and making plays for his teammates is something he’s always been able to do, you just get more comfortable in doing it.”
Durant stated in a Sports Illustrated cover story last spring he’s tired of constantly slotting at No. 2, both individually and as part of a runner-up team. So, games like Wednesday, when he and the Thunder face the NBA’s No. 1 individual and two-time defending champions, stand as points of pride for all concerned.