- Associated Press - Friday, October 8, 2010

MIAMI (AP) - A poll of NBA general managers released this week suggested that Kevin Durant is the overwhelming favorite to win the league’s MVP award this season.

LeBron James _ the two-time reigning MVP _ knows why.

Albeit from afar, James has followed Durant’s game closely for years. James will have a better view Friday night, when his Miami Heat match up against Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a preseason game at Kansas City, Mo.

“You just appreciate great talent,” James said. “He’s just one of those guys, one of those kids, man, who’s just going to continue to work hard and try to be one of the greats. For me, I admire stuff like that because I know how hard it is to work. I know how hard it is to get to that level where you feel like you’re one of the superstars in this league. He’s great. He’s an unbelievable talent.”

Sounds funny, James calling Durant a kid. After all, James is only 25.

Then again, Durant _ last season’s scoring champion, less than a half-point more prolific than James _ just turned 22.

“He loves the game of basketball,” James said. “He’s a student of the game and he has a knack for knowing how to win and knowing how to put the ball in the hole.”

Head-to-head, in the regular season, James and Durant have met five times. James won all five as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 29.6 points to Durant’s 25.2.

This matchup on Friday won’t count, but if nothing else, it’ll serve as a chance for James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to laud Durant in person _ all were duly impressed with the way he led USA Basketball to a world championship this summer, giving the Americans an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

James, Wade and Bosh decided to become teammates this summer in celebrated fashion. Barring a change of heart, they’ll all likely be teammates with Durant in London two summers from now.

“As a fan of the game, which I always watch the game, that’s pretty cool to see _ three guys, All-Stars, coming together,” Durant said. “Of course, they’re going to be fighting for a championship. But as a player on my team, I can’t focus on them. I’ve got to worry about what I’ve got here, what we’re working towards here.”

That’s what James has been telling him to do.

They started getting to know each other when Durant was in high school, which, naturally, wasn’t all that long ago. It’s not quite a mentor-mentee relationship, but James has shared many of his experiences with Durant, knowing the Thunder star is essentially dealing with many of the same things.

“He’s great because he’s humble,” James said. “He accepts the challenge, but he’s a very humble kid. He doesn’t let it get to his head too much. He’s been probably one of the best players since he was growing up. I mean, he was the freshman player of the year at Texas. He’s gotten a lot of exposure and he knows how to handle it.”

Thanks largely to Durant’s continued emergence into superstardom, the Thunder had a breakthrough season a year ago, and figure to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers and others for the top spot in the Western Conference.

James doesn’t think it’s a stretch to add the Thunder into the overall title conversation, either.

“For him to be on the front of that, it’s awesome,” James said. “I’m proud of him.”

Durant likely won’t get too amped up for Friday night. Wade won’t be playing, out with a strained right hamstring. The game won’t count, and it’s unclear how much James and Bosh will be on the floor for Miami, either.

There’ll likely be a moment or two of Durant and James going at each other, which will be all either really wants.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on how we can get better,” Durant said. “But over there, they have a great team and a great group of guys.”

___

AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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