Eastern Conference's LeBron James (6), of the Miami Heat, pressures...

Eastern Conference's LeBron James (6), of the Miami Heat, pressures Western Conference's Kevin Durant (35), of the Oklahoma City Thunder, during the NBA All-Star basketball game. (Feb. 26, 2012) Credit: AP

MIAMI -- Several weeks before this season started, LeBron James and Kevin Durant were competing against each other.

Hell Week, they called it, a four-day series of grueling workouts.

Starting Tuesday night, they'll meet again. They'll call that the NBA Finals.

Neither was playing at the level they are now when James invited Durant to work out with him during the NBA lockout in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Now as James tries to win his first ring, fittingly, it's Durant in his way.

"It's only right. It's only right," James said. "We look forward to the challenge. It's going to be a big test for us."

James played at a rarely seen level in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. According to STATS LLC, James became the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000 Finals to have six 30-point games in a playoff series. In the one contest in which James didn't score 30, he had 29 in Game 4, fouling out in overtime.

His series averages against the Celtics: 33.6 points and 11 rebounds and 53 percent shooting. He had five games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in the entire regular season, then did it five times against Boston.

"He was absolutely brilliant this series, and we all know it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's playing at a historic level during the playoffs, driving us with his will. We do not take his talent or his will or his competitiveness for granted. And we need every single bit of it. He is pushing himself beyond his limits, and he's pushing the rest of the team, as well."

Heat guard Dwyane Wade said, "He's amazing."

There were many moments for the Heat to celebrate Saturday night, when it punched its ticket back to the NBA Finals by ousting Boston, 101-88, in Game 7.

"I really thought he in particular played a very smart, aggressive game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He kind of let the game come to him, and then down the stretch, he took the game over. That's what great players do."

Criticized last season for deferring too often in crucial situations, James went into the offseason driven by the pain of failing in the Finals. And even during the lockout, he did anything he could to improve: two-a-day workouts, studying with Hakeem Olajuwon, yoga, boxing, beach sprints, even asking Durant to come to Akron for a few days for some training.

In those sessions, they pushed each other to the limit.

"Me and KD, man, just tryin' to get better," James said in a video of one workout posted online.

And look at them now, two superstars set to fight for one ring.

Said Durant, "It's going to be a battle."

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