It was a long summer for LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Not just because of the lockout — which saw Durant in the public eye constantly with a never-ending run of pick-up basketball games for public exhibition — but because of how their seasons ended.
Durant’s season concluded in his first Western Conference Finals appearance, his first real opportunity to show off his incredible talent with something on the line. His team was game and competed with the Mavericks, but Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks’ experience was too much for the young Thunder. It was another lesson learned.
James too saw his season end at the Mavericks’ hands. His postseason was immaculate until he reached the Finals and he struggled mightily and was unable to help Miami close out and win the title he had promised at his introductory press conference in July.
Bitter disappointment often leads to offseason hunger.
Without team staff to rely on for training, it should come as no surprise that players banded together to keep each other in shape and play basketball. We saw plenty of the highlights of the countless exhibition games that occurred during the lockout. What might surprise was that James and Durant, already two of the best players in the league and front-runners for the next (I don’t know) 10 MVP awards used their mutual disappointment over losses to the Mavericks to help each other get better.
From Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated (via Sulia):
Interesting stuff from LeBron James on his “Hell Week” w/ Kevin Durant last summer, when they spent 5 days at University of Akron training: “We called it hell week. He was upset by his (WC Finals) series in Dallas, where they got eliminated by Dallas, & I was as well (by Finals loss to Dallas). So we pushed each other each and every day. I envisioned us getting to this point. Like I said, I’m just happy for him that he was able to get to the Finals and I’m looking forward to going against him.”
It figures that their journey that started with a loss to the same team and workouts in the summer will end against each other in the NBA Finals.
James and Durant were pretty certainly the best two players in the league this year — they were at least by MVP voting. Their scoring ability and physical talents make them truly unique players. This Finals is exactly what fans could want in pitting these two players against each other.
The two though had countless battles already in training together in Akron during that “Hell Week.”
Undoubtedly working with and against the best players in the world is going to make you better. Durant continued his scoring assault with a league-high 28.0 points per game. Durant though added some new things to his game too. He became a more efficient scorer, shooting a career-best 49.6 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent from beyond the arc, and contributed more on the glass with 8.0 rebounds per game and more with his teammates, with a modest, but career-high 3.5 assists per game.
In other words, he began playing like, well, LeBron.
James also had another fantastic, historic season. James had the 12th season in NBA history of scoring 25 points per game, grabbing 7 rebounds per game, dishing out 5 assists per game all while shooting 50 percent from the floor. And it was the third time he has done it joining Larry Bird as the only members of this elite club.
The two had simply amazing seasons.
As they trained in June and July, I am sure James and Durant knew this day was coming. The Thunder and Heat were the favorites to meet for the Finals back in December when the season started. Knowing their competitive natures, they probably relished this opportunity to go up against each other on the biggest stage.
All that hard work paid off in the regular season and in the Playoffs. Now each stands four wins away from the ultimate prize and cementing part of their legacies.
h/t on the videos to J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City (click on the link to see the third video in the Hell Week series Lebron had produced).