Kevin Durant could feel it coming.
It was only a matter of time.
But the moment things began to boil over, boldly and blatantly, came on Oct. 8, the day of the Oklahoma City Thunder's second exhibition game.
The Thunder was gearing up to take on Miami. The night before, Heat forward LeBron James was hosting a party in Kansas City. A reporter had asked Durant that day if he would attend. Durant said no, explaining that he generally doesn't hit the town before games.
Durant could barely recognize his response in the next day's paper.
“It made it seem like he gave me an invitation to the party and I declined it,” Durant said. “He never really invited me to that party. I just said I'm not going. So people are starting to twist and turn things a little bit and make things bigger than they are.”
That fabricated friction, however small, symbolizes how some desperately seek to supersize any battle between Durant and James. But as the two stars meet for the first time this season inside Oklahoma City Arena, it seems their paths have aligned naturally to create a genuine rivalry — one that could become the game's next great one.
We might still be a long way from Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird-Magic Johnson material. But Durant-LeBron has potential.
“That's a part of the game,” Durant said, welcoming but not worrying about an impeding individual rivalry.
The networks have taken notice. Today's game between the Thunder and Heat is the first Sunday showcase of the season, a noon tilt that starts ABC's doubleheader and preludes a rematch of last year's Finals between the Celtics and Lakers.
Durant and James are the top two scorers in the league, Durant pacing all players with a 28.8-point average while LeBron ranks second at 26.1. Over the past three games, Durant has scored 109 points while James has scored 101 points.
They also are two of the league's most popular young stars. Each led all forwards and ranked second overall in their respective conferences in All-Star voting, and both are in the top 10 in jersey sales.
All that's preventing a real rivalry is the actual games. Durant is 0-5 against James. As a rookie, Durant's Seattle SuperSonics defeated James Cleveland Cavaliers. James, however, didn't play because of injury.
“I don't really think it's a rivalry since we don't play each other that much,” Durant said. “We're only guaranteed to play each other twice. And if we ever do play them outside of the regular season it'll be in the Finals.”
Who says that day is far off?
James' other competitors are fizzling out. Dwyane Wade has become a teammate. Kobe Bryant is pushing 33. Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is 33, and Tim Duncan turns 35 in late April. Most of the Celtics are fighting Father Time. Paul Pierce is 33. Kevin Garnett is 34. Ray Allen is 35.
The Thunder and the Heat, meanwhile, both have cores in their early to mid 20s. Wade is 29, but James and forward Chris Bosh are both just 26. Durant and teammate Russell Westbrook are only 22.
Durant, though, almost goes out of his way to downplay a budding rivalry.
“It's kind of cool for the fans of the game. But as a player, you just want to go out there and play,” Durant said. “You don't want to take anything from your teammates or the organization. I don't want it to be Kevin Durant versus LeBron James. I want it to be the Thunder versus the Heat.”
THUNDER VS. HEAT
When: Noon, Sunday
Where: Oklahoma City Arena.
TV: ABC (Cox 8, HD Ch. 705)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* Miami guard Dwyane Wade (wrist) is doubtful for today's game. Heat forward Chris Bosh (ankle) is out.
* The Thunder has won a season-high six games at home.
* Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha's streak of 127 consecutive starts ended Friday against Washington because of a sprained knee. Sefolosha is doubtful to play today.