Collaborators in London, the game's two top stars now get to compete against each other again.
There's been an effort to inject other players into this conversation.
Still, observers would be silly to overlook how LeBron James and Kevin Durant have continued to elevate their games.
James has made it clear in a number of interviews, including one in his Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year profile, that Durant is the guy driving him to get better, the one whose incremental improvement in so many areas has left him little reason to relax.
“I know there is someone, somewhere, trying to take my spot,” James told Sports Illustrated. “And I know where he is, too. He's in Oklahoma. He's my inspiration because I see the direction he's headed, and it's the same direction I'm headed. I know his mind-set, and he knows mine. It's a collision course. We're driving one another.”
Durant has made it just as clear that James, nearly four years older, is the standard he is seeking to reach and exceed.
James is 7-2 against Durant in the regular season, though that record is warped by Durant's early days with undermanned, inexperienced Seattle and Oklahoma City squads. James won the first Finals round, four games to one, not because Durant was deficient, but because he was simply more dominant.
They trained together again this offseason—for what they called Hell Week 2, according to ESPN—after they teamed to win Olympic gold.
On Christmas, they meet again in Miami. At this stage, who boasts the more impressive skill set?
The following is a five-part process to make that call.
The odds are that this shot went in for Kevin Durant.
Kevin Durant is the most dangerous high-volume jump shooter in the sport. This is nearly inarguable, especially now that Ray Allen is in the twilight of his career.
Nothing strikes more fear in opponents than Durant rising up from anywhere, against anyone, in any situation. He has proven again and again that time and space are irrelevant when he has his mind set on shooting.
But is he winning the statistical battle against LeBron James?
Durant is converting a career-high 52.1 percent of his shots from the floor, but James is also connecting at a career-best rate of 54.2. Durant is shooting a career-high 42.7 percent from behind the arc, but James has him beaten at 44.6.
Durant is hitting a higher percentage of his jumpers overall, and has widened his advantage at the line (90.5 percent to 68.3 percent). Still, it's become increasingly dangerous to dare James to shoot.
When LeBron James lifts off, it's unwise to impede his ascent.
Even at a listed 215 pounds, Durant is plenty capable of causing a commotion above the rim. In fact, he has actually dunked more times (38) than LeBron James (30) this season.
He's also leading James in another category that suggests aggression: free throws. Durant is averaging 9.2 attempts per game, compared to 6.0 per game for James.
That's part of what makes this assessment challenging. Like the shooting comparison, "attacking" is another area in which the statistics belie the reputations.
So, as was the case before, we'll counter the numbers.
If Durant continues dunking and drawing fouls at his current clip, then perhaps it will require rethinking. But when it comes to speed, power and spring, there's still no one in the league like LeBron.
The ball is in the air. Who do you have?
Rebounding isn't just about height—it's about technique, anticipation and strength.
When you take all those factors into consideration, it's hard to separate LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Their statistics throughout their careers, and this season specifically, have been as close to even as you can get.
Durant is averaging a career-high 8.4 rebounds per game, while James is averaging a career-high 8.5, with James holds a slight advantage on the offensive end.
In nine head-to-head regular season matchups, Durant is outrebounding James, but in the NBA Finals, James battered his counterpart on the boards, averaging 10.2 to Durant's 6.0.
There's a sense that each still has some room for growth in this area, especially in light of the smaller lineups their teams—and their opponents—are using.
Still, each enters Christmas leading their respective teams on the glass.
Call this a toss-up, and let them chase it.
LeBron James has impeccable floor vision.
James has won a scoring title, and he made it clear this past week that he's quite capable of doing so again. But that's not his focus (via ESPN.com):
"My job is to do a lot of everything—rebounding, passing and defending so that takes away from my scoring. I've done (the scoring title) before. I'm capable of doing it, but my game sometimes doesn't allow me to have those big nights."
The Heat's roster is somewhat restrictive in allowing James to enjoy big nights as well. Neither Mario Chalmers nor Norris Cole is a prototypical point guard in terms of making the right decisions and beating ball pressure.
While Dwyane Wade handles some of those duties, the ball's not in his hands as much as it is in Russell Westbrook's for Oklahoma City.
James is entrusted to pass more than Durant, and he's undeniably superior at it. He's the only non-point guard among the NBA's leaders in assists, with 6.8 per game. And that doesn't even count all the so-called hockey assists, when he destroys a double team by sending the ball to the other side of the floor, with another swing leading to a Heat score.
Durant has become much more adept at passing this year, and his assist average of 4.2 represents another of his many career highs.
Unfortunately, he will never match LeBron at this craft.
When he's locked in, LeBron James is an elite defender.
Is it sheer brilliance on the part of LeBron James or superstar favoritism on the part of the NBA referees?
That, of course, depends on your perspective.
On the surface, it seems illogical that any NBA player, especially one as active on the defensive end—and in the air—could log heavy minutes over more than six games and not commit a single foul.
“Some of it’s preparation, some of it’s luck,” James told The Miami Herald. “Some of it’s being in the right position, knowing the system, being in the right position, knowing when the rotations happen defensively.”
Perhaps he has gotten the benefit of some calls. Still, there's no denying his ability as someone who can deny any player he encounters—from point guard to power forward and even the occasional center. Erik Spoelstra continues to deploy him on the best that the other team has to offer, especially on final possessions.
Kevin Durant has made tremendous strides as a defender over the course of his career, and he actually has a slightly better defensive rating than James.
Again, though, this is where a statistic may not say it all.
Say your team has a one-point lead with one defensive possession left to go.The ball's at the top, in the hands of one of the league's more lethal playmakers.
Who would you pick for that defensive assignment?
The choice is clear.
LeBron James remains just a small step ahead.
It's understandable why the NBA would want to recreate this narrative: Two friends, bound by mutual respect, each with dynamic skill sets, and each with attributes the other wishes he possessed.
After all, this dynamic worked perfectly when the players in question were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Yet, before you start penning any Broadway plays about LeBron James and Kevin Durant, some significant differences should be acknowledged. Most notably, unlike Johnson and Bird, James and Durant entered the NBA several years apart, and remain at different stages of their development.
Will Durant someday catch, or even pass, James?
Durant has already demonstrated that his drive rivals the best in the sport, and has shown progress across the board this season. Of course, he won't be chasing a stationary target. James continues to maniacally add elements to his game, in part because he feels Durant's breath against his neck.
It took a while, but James ultimately made the biggest breakthrough: winning an NBA championship.
Durant still needs to kick down that door, and he needs to do it with James standing guard. He needs to do it the way that James did, with something like 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals and four wins in five Finals games.
He needs to do it with a firm declaration that he is the best player in the league. Until then, he is a close second.
Overall Edge: James