Durant and LeBron headline one of the most anticipated Finals in history

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James, the three-time MVP, played at a historic level to pace the Miami Heat to its second consecutive NBA Finals.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LeBron James and Kevin Durant competed against each other weeks before the season began in what they refer to as “Hell Week.”

The intensity of the four-day series of punishing workouts in Akron, Ohio dwindles in comparison to the one of their upcoming series to crown a new NBA Champion.

James, the three-time MVP, played at a historic level to pace the Miami Heat to its second consecutive NBA Finals. Like last year, the Heat face a team as hungry as it and equipped with a superstar of its own.

Three-time scoring champion Durant led the Thunder on a gritty Western Conference playoff run, in which it ousted the only three teams that had claimed the conference since 1998.

At only 23, Durant has taken the league by storm and has a relatively young Thunder team one series away from the ultimate prize in basketball. James is also looking for his first title in what is now his third NBA Finals appearance.

James has lifted his game to an even higher level in trying to refute the scrutiny acquired by his inability to perform late in games during last season’s Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. He has become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000 Finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series during the Eastern Conference Finals.

Durant finished second in MVP voting behind James in the regular season and now has a chance to make his case for being the best basketball player on the planet. Not to discount the impact that fellow stars Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will have on this series, but the end result will likely be decided by who wins the matchup between the superstar forwards.

James will likely guard Durant plenty, especially in crunch-time situations. How the best pure-scorer in the league responds to the defense of possibly the best one-on-one defender in the league may be the deciding factor on who takes the 2012 NBA Championship.

After both fell to Dallas in last year’s playoffs, James and Durant recognized each other’s drive during their “Hell Week” and probably knew they would have to go through each other to get their first ring.