Two superhuman talents.
Two star-studded teams.
But only one can win a championship first.
Both LeBron James and Kevin Durant are tipped to lead their respective teams to the NBA Finals this spring.
LeBron's Miami Heat may not be the top team in the Eastern Conference, but they proved last year that being the No. 1 seed means little when two teams are evenly matched.
Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder are also not the clear-cut best team in the Western Conference, as they are dueling for the top seed with the San Antonio Spurs.
Both teams have designs on making their way to the Finals and lifting the big prize at the end.
Who will get there first?
Well, the gamblers in Las Vegas would have you believe it would be LeBron James and the Miami Heat that will win it all this year; they are the favorites in Vegas and have been playing some of the best basketball in the NBA for most of the season.
LeBron's chances largely lie in his own hands. During last season's Eastern Conference Finals, James took over each of the Heat's four victories, not only dominating on the offensive end, but completely shutting down Chicago star Derrick Rose and holding him to just 10 percent shooting.
LeBron has to hope that a long, hectic season won't come back to haunt him and his teammates. Miami's high-tempo, fast-paced playing style early this year may open the door to some serious fatigue in the playoffs.
This has become a reality throughout the roster. Mike Miller is only just back to consistent playing time, LeBron James has been nursing several different injuries of varying severity and Dwyane Wade has not played in three of his last eight games.
Without a strong supporting cast, LeBron will be powerless to stop the Thunder from rolling over them in the finals.
Oklahoma has had a stellar seasons so far with Durant a front-runner to collect the MVP award, Russell Westbrook continuing his All-Star level play, James Harden coming off the bench as the third-highest scorer on the team and the coming of Serge Ibaka as a defensive stalwart.
The Thunder, providing they do not suffer an upset along the way, could meet Miami in the Finals should both sides progress that far.
Durant's Thunder have been successful this season on the back of the outstanding and consistent production of their very own "Big Three" of Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
Combined with some of the best role-players in the league (Ibaka, Perkins), the Thunder have simply dominated opposition at times this year.
The Thunder's potential Achilles' heel will be their lack of assists — they rank 27th in the league in assists-per-game. No champion has ever averaged so few.
The Heat's vaunted defense that hounds and hawks the ball is perfectly set up to stifle ball movement, something the Thunder don't do, and with the glut of premier one-on-one defenders available, Miami would feel fairly comfortable with lots of one-shot possessions from Oklahoma.
However, I think the Thunder should have enough offense to overcome Miami in the finals. With the ability of Kevin Durant to get his shot off regardless of who is defending him, and the superior speed and athleticism of both Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Thunder are primed to take advantage of an obviously-tired and beaten up Miami team.
There is one intangible that I must touch on, and that is about who has the air of a champion surrounding them.
With two defeats to Chicago and two to Boston since the All-Star break, the Heat have lost that aura of invincibility that shrouded them at the start of the season. .
It's like Tiger Woods. His partner on the final day of a major would often cower and underperform out of the intimidation of playing someone with Tiger's famed ability. Years of poor play from Woods has resulted in that fear receding and players being more than capable of beating him.
Has the same thing happened on South Beach? Has the rest of the league finally got over the hoodoo of the Big Three?
It certainly seems that the Thunder have the aura of a champions — they play with confidence in themselves and seem to know exactly where they are going. Their players know their roles and fit into them perfectly.
Most importantly, their rotation is set.
Miami has fielded three different starting centers in the past two weeks.
The playoffs start in 12 days.
That is a real cause for concern if you backed LeBron to bag his first championship ring this season.
So it is a combination of a multitude of factors that makes me believe that it will be Kevin Durant who gets his championship ring before LeBron James.
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