Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/23/12
MIAMI -- Tom Brady and Peyton Manning never have compared notes while playing catch during the offseason. LeBron James couldn't care less. The Miami Heat forward and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant are the two best players in the NBA on the two best teams. For each of the past two offseasons they've been working out against each other in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio. During the NBA lockout in the fall of 2011, it was Hell Week. Last September, it was Hell Week 2. Come Tuesday on Christmas, a day more suited for Peace on Earth, the two will go at each other at AmericanAirlines Arena in their first meeting since the Heat won last season's NBA Finals. James, despite some believing the friendship between the two stars could soften them up, isn't expecting their battle to be genteel. "Everyone wants us to hate each other in a sense, but (the relationship) doesn't take away from how we compete when we're playing against each other," James said after scoring 30 points in Saturday's 105-89 home win over Utah. "We compete at a high level, and we don't like each other on the floor. But after the game, it's all good." James scoffed when it was brought up that top players in sports leagues on rival teams usually don't work out together during the offseason. It was mentioned legendary quarterbacks Brady and Manning don't exactly provide each other tips. "That's not our problem," James said. "That's not our concern about what everyone else is doing. But that's what a lot of people's problem is, that they're not used to change. They're not used to someone doing something differently, stepping outside the box... I try to do things outside the box So we can't worry about what the other greats have done. We make our own mark." It was an intriguing idea when the stars got together during the NBA lockout since players couldn't use team facilities and there were no offseason workouts teams could arrange. It turned out so well the two decided to do it again even when there wasn't a lockout. James and Durant were teammates in leading Team USA to an Aug. 12 win over Spain for the Olympic gold medal in London. A month later, they were back at it in Akron. "We're good friends and we really respect each other's games, and we love to compete," Durant said. "You play to win. That's what we both do. We built a relationship because we were in the Olympics and practiced on the same team every day for a month and a half. That brought us closer." When it comes to the NBA's two best players, it's close at the top. James was last season's Most Valuable Player and Durant came in second in the voting. Both then steered their teams to the Finals. The Heat won 4-1, something obviously Durant next June wants to change. But the first step is for both players to get back there. "I told K.D. before (last summer's sessions) that, if we're not training or we're not working on our games to put ourselves in a position to see ourselves in June, then we're doing a discredit to ourselves," said James, who pulled down nine rebounds Saturday against the Jazz to help make up for center Chris Bosh being out due to the flu. "Every day, we worked out, every morning, every afternoon, our whole motivation was to put that work in, not take any short cuts, but put enough work in where we could put ourselves in a position to see each other each and every June." Both are off to a great start as they try to make that happen. The Heat (18-6) have the best record in the Eastern Conference and the Thunder (21-5) are tops in the West. James, who has scored 20 or more points in every game this season, is averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists and shooting 54.2 percent. Durant is averaging 27.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assistsand shooting 52.1 percent. "It's great that they have a relationship, but when they get on a basketball court, they're competitors," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade. "They're going to go after each other just like they would if they didn't know each other." While the stars are close, it's more of a basketball relationship. Durant stressed the two never have hung out on a regular basis. "People are getting it confused," Durant said. "I respect LeBron and we're friends. But to say that we've spent a lot of time (together), I mean, at the Olympics, we probably spent a day together. It's not like I was talking to him every day, or I was hanging out with him every day." James agrees. It's mostly a relationship built on each player wanting to practice against the best guy he can. "We're close enough where we respect each other," James said. "We know each others' families to that sense. We're not the closest. We're not close like he and (Thunder guard Russell Westbrook) is. And I'm closer with D-Wade." Regardless of how chummy they are, don't expect either to relax Tuesday. This has been a game NBA fans eagerly have been awaiting since last June's Finals. That series featured James, en route to winning Finals MVP, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists while shooting 47.2 percent. Durant averaged 30.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 54.8 percent. "When the ball is tipped, they're not friends," said Miami forward Shane Battier. "I have no problem with those guys training in the offseason and pushing each other because all the great players in this league have to be pushed by someone else. So I have no problem with them and their relationship. But, trust me, if LeBron (needs) to take K.D. down, he'll take him down and vice-versa." Of course, it might already have happened that the two competitors took each other down during their Hell Weeks. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson
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