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James, Heat to face young Thunder in NBA finals
After surviving those old Celtics, LeBron James and the Heat get the Thunder's young guns in the NBA finals.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Western Conference champions will host Game 1 on Tuesday night when the NBA's championship series comes to Oklahoma City for the first time.
The Thunder finally got their opponent Saturday night when the Heat finished off the Celtics with a 101-88 victory in Game 7, sending Miami to its second straight finals berth and giving James a third attempt at his first ring.
James had 31 points and 12 rebounds to set up a marquee matchup with Durant, the NBA's scoring champion whom he beat out for the league's MVP award.
"I'm looking forward to going against him," James said.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh fell short in their first season together, losing in six games to Dallas last year. The Heat earned another chance by winning the final two games against the Celtics, whose older legs might have run out of steam after Boston led the decisive game by seven at halftime.
Energy won't be a problem for the Thunder, whose core of 23-year-old Durant, the league's three-time scoring champion, Westbrook (23) and James Harden (22) was born when the Celtics' Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce was around middle school age.
The Thunder, who moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, roll into their franchise's first finals appearance since the Seattle SuperSonics lost to Chicago in 1996. They surged past San Antonio by winning the final four games after dropping the first two to the No. 1 seed.
After eliminating defending champion Dallas and the Lakers in the first two rounds, the Thunder look to knock out another heavyweight in the Heat, the 2006 NBA champions.
"We all know how tough it's going to be but we're going to fight to the end no matter what, leave it out on floor and we'll live with the results," Durant said.
The Thunder will host the first two games before the series moves to Miami for Games 3-5.
Despite their youth, the Thunder have some finals experience. Starting center Kendrick Perkins played in two finals with the Celtics against the Lakers, both times against teammate Derek Fisher.
"Once you get to the finals, it's just about will and heart," Perkins said. "You could do all the scouting that you want to do and try to get ready for them, but at the end of the day, you done worked so hard to get here that it's just coming from within. You've just got to dig deep.
"By Game 4 or 5, you'll see guys getting tired because of the season being long or whatever. It's just digging deep and seeing who wants it more."
The teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season, each winning at home.
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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