- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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"He's one of those guys who takes on the challenge, and I'm looking forward to going up against him," Durant said ahead of Wednesday night's game against the Heat (7 ET, ESPN).
But the Oklahoma City Thunder star also said his motivation to succeed in the NBA doesn't stem from trying to outdo the four-time league MVP.
"To be honest, I'm going to be totally real, like, I don't go in every day, when I go into the gym and work on my game, I don't have a LeBron picture [on the ball], or I don't have his name in my mind when I'm going in there and working," Durant said. "It's all about trying to get better for myself. And I know how I feel about myself. I know the confidence I have in myself, but also I want to compete against the best, and I want to go out there and prove myself against the best."
Both James and Durant believe they will spend significant time guarding each other Wednesday night. Durant is averaging 36 points over his past 11 games, and James also has been hot, in the midst of his best 10-game scoring streak of the season, in which he's averaged 28.4 points.
"He's one of the toughest covers, between him and [Carmelo Anthony], those are the toughest covers for me individually," James said. "It's a game within a game. You want to win, but you also want to win your own matchup. I like going against the best. I wish I could go against him every night."
Said Durant: "Everybody wants to see the one-on-one matchup. I know that's the big thing. But we're going to match up together, so I'm sure you guys are going to get what you want. But at the end of the day, it's all about the Thunder versus the Heat, and it's going to be fun playing against them."
Durant doesn't have a reputation as a strong defensive player, but he's been determined to change that with his play recently.
The Thunder have developed into one of the league's top teams. While forward Serge Ibaka is generally recognized as their best defender, Durant believes he has improved and looks forward to matchups against James to show it.
"I'm a two-way player; that is how I look at it," Durant said Wednesday. "I play both ends of the floor, whether you think so or not. Ask my coaches or my teammates, they rely on me on the defensive end. If you want to be a good player, you have to do it on both ends, and I've realized that over the last few years. And I think I'm doing a better job on the defensive end."
James, third in the league with an average of 26.0 points per game, is the two-time defending MVP. But his run with the hardware could be ended by Durant, who is averaging a league-best 31.3 points and has thrived even without Russell Westbrook, who has missed 21 games due to an ailing knee.
James said earlier this month that he's not ready to concede the title to Durant, his friend for years and a past workout partner during the offseason.
Durant, who previously noted he's tired of finishing second to James in the MVP race, said that's not what is on his mind.
"You guys pump that up," he said. "Fans pump that up more than the players, I think. Every day is a process for me. I'm just trying to work every single day to get better. And at the end of the year, I guess, we'll see where we're at. But every single day, I just try not to look past it and just keep working and see where we are.
"I try not to worry about that because I can't control none of that. All I can control is how I play, how I approach the game and how I prepare, and the rest will take care of itself."
Despite the attention that surrounds the NBA's two biggest stars, Durant isn't about to call their rivalry "Larry Bird-Magic Johnson" just yet.
"No, I don't think so," he said. "I mean, we've been in the Finals one time. That's it. I try not to get into that debate. Those two guys, Bird and Magic, they're on another level, and I try not to get into that.
"It's 'Kevin Durant versus LeBron James' when we're matched up on that court. But it's Oklahoma City versus the Miami Heat -- that's how I try to look at it. And I try not to think about nothing else but who I'm guarding and how our team is going to try to come out there and get a 'W.'"
Kevin Durant called the recent praise directed his way by Miami Heat star LeBron James "flattering."