Kobe Bryant Has Become Kevin Durant’s Spirit Animal

LOS ANGELES — Kevin Durant knows his Chicago Bulls-Oklahoma City Thunder game is the mere opening act before the NBA Finals rematch and Christmas showcase between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors.

Being the snow-crunching reindeer ahead of Santa's big scene isn't all bad.

It's just not what All-Stars truly aspire to.

Durant knows Cavs-Dubs was the most-watched NBA championship series since Michael Jordan's heyday in 1998, and he certainly knows how deeply it stung him that James and Curry got to play for everything while he was just trying to walk normally after a third surgery on his right foot.

We know Durant knows because he tells us how he feels. The 2014 NBA MVP flat-out said he was "jealous" of 2012-13 MVP James and 2015 MVP Curry. Durant has a mind, and he speaks it.

There's realness to Kevin Durant these days. He has effectively muted what was expected to be an epic free-agent distraction by owning the discussion and authentically staying in the moment.

And as wonderfully as Curry is playing, Durant's scoring efficiency this season has been just as ridiculous—he's getting to the free-throw line more than Curry and shooting better from the field, per Basketball-Reference.com. Even more overlooked is that Durant is now playing consistently elite defense.

As uber-competitive Kobe Bryant plays his final Christmas Day game in the late-game afterthought matchup between the lowly Lakers and disappointing Clippers, Bryant's fans would be wise to consider Durant as their new favorite player—no matter how captivating Curry is or the success James has had.

Durant left Staples Center late Wednesday night after dominating a delightful head-to-head matchup with Bryant (and pointedly telling him he traveled on the play whe...

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