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LeBron hopes third time’s a charm in Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, June 11 – For LeBron James to finally claim his long-sought NBA Finals title, he and the Miami Heat will have to shut down NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Two star-studded teams begin the best-of-seven championship series at Oklahoma City on Tuesday, ending a campaign shortened by a financial dispute between players and team owners that delayed the season’s start to December 25.

James, this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, departed the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 for Miami to join fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and spoke of not only winning an NBA crown but taking multiple titles.

The Heat lost to Dallas in last year’s NBA Finals but James has worked to reach the NBA Finals for the third time in his career in his ninth NBA season, having also lost with Cleveland to San Antonio in 2007.

James averaged 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists to spark Miami and has produced 30.8 points and 9.8 rebounds a game in the playoffs, but the goal remains another four victories away from the superstar playmaker.

“We look forward to the next challenge,” James said. “Still one more step.”

The Heat and Thunder split two regular-season meetings, each club winning at home. Oklahoma City went 47-19, one game better than Miami, to claim a home-field edge for the final showdown.

This will mark the first year since scoring king Michael Jordan guided the Chicago Bulls against Utah’s Karl Malone in 1997 that the NBA’s top scorer and Most Valuable Player competed against each other in the NBA Finals.

But Durant, who averaged 28.0 points this season and is netting 27.8 points and grabbing 7.9 rebounds in the playoffs, has some help in the form of fellow 23-year-old American Russell Westbrook.

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Add James Harden, voted the NBA’s top man off the bench, and Serge Ibaka, the Spanish big man who led the NBA in blocked shots for the second year in a row, and the Thunder bring plenty of confidence they can claim the crown.

“It doesn’t matter who starts or who finishes the game,” James said. “James Harden doesn’t start, but he’s always on the court at the end of the game. It’s who is being productive. That’s what it all boils down to.”

There are some historic links between James going to Miami and the Thunder. To help clear salary room for making a run at James in 2010, the Heat sent away Daequan Cook and Derek Fisher to the Thunder.

Miami’s Bosh has returned from an abdominal strain but has yet to start since coming back in the Heat’s Eastern Conference finals win over Boston.

“I’m going to have my time out there with certain lineups,” Bosh said.

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