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January 29, 2014

Durant and James set to square off in season’s first meeting

Thunder ride eight game win streak into Miami

NORMAN — It’s being billed as a possible NBA Finals matchup. That’s the phrase fans will hear over and over again tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to South Beach to take on the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (32-12) in a nationally televised game at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

“It’s a regular game,” Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant said. “It’s another game for us. We have to focus on us.”

Even though Durant has gotten nearly everything he’s wanted since the calendar turned 2014, he will not be able to get people to believe this is just another game as Oklahoma City goes for its ninth straight win. Not only is it two of the top teams in the league going at it for the first time this year, it’s arguably the top two players in the game facing off.

The LeBron James versus Durant comparison has been a friendly one the last few years. Despite Durant’s impressive numbers, the nod as the best in the league has always gone to James due to his overall game, physical gifts and most recently, NBA titles.

Yet, the conversation has started to take a turn this season. While James is still putting up elite level numbers and has his Heat as a favorite to come out of the East along with the Indiana Pacers, he’s been overshadowed by Durant and that is almost impossible to do.

But the Oklahoma City (36-10) star has been on such a run that his sheer dominance has even forced national networks to interrupt Super Bowl coverage to talk about Durant.

“There’s nothing more to say,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a special player. He is going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.”

Durant is averaging a career-high 31.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists. His mindboggling numbers include 11 straight games with at least 30 points. He has also dropped five 40-point games in this month alone. In the month of January he is averaging 36.85 points a contest while also improving on his assists and rebounds.

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