The 2012 NBA Finals kick off today, Tuesday, June 12 and will showcase the athleticism and prowess of the two most gifted basketball teams in the league — the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.

Representing the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder are led by star forward Kevin Durant. At a mere 23 years of age, Durant is the NBA’s current scoring champion, an All-Star MVP, and a gold medal winner in the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

In addition to Durant, the Thunder have several key weapons, players who each possess a skillset unique to the team. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is explosive off the dribble and arguably the best point-guard in the league; Kendrick Perkins is a defensive juggernaut with superior strength in the post; Serge Ibaka is the NBA’s most prolific shot blocker; and James Harden is the current recipient of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. The Thunder are a youthful squad, anchored by several veteran role players who bring with them NBA titles and significant playoff experience: the quintessential formula for championship glory.

On the other side of the spectrum, representing the Eastern Conference, are the Miami Heat. Equally athletic as the Thunder, the Heat are led by the league’s current MVP, LeBron James, as well as NBA champion Dwyane Wade. Miami is looking to avenge their disappointing loss in last year’s NBA Finals to Dirk Nowitzki and the veteran savvy Dallas Mavericks.

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This season, the Heat have become a more cohesive unit and thrive off transition basketball. Veteran forward Shane Battier was added in the offseason and his defensive proficiency has paid dividends in the playoffs thus far. LeBron James, who was vilified for the manner in which he left Cleveland to join Miami in the summer of 2010, has elevated his game to unprecedented heights with 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game in the 2012 playoffs. Chris Bosh, the lesser known component of the “Big Three,” is also a vital addition to the roster because of his wide shooting range, which effectively spaces the floor allowing James and Wade to drive to the rim and score easy buckets.

A place in the Finals didn’t come easily for either team. After finishing off the defending champion Mavericks and the Lakers with relative ease, the Thunder found themselves down 0-2 in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, who were riding a remarkable 20-game winning streak through the playoffs. However, the Thunder showed poise well beyond their years and completely blindsided the Spurs, defeating them in four straight games to win the series. This secured the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals since 1996 when the team was still the Seattle Supersonics.

The Heat’s road to the Finals was even more daunting. Miami had little opposition from the New York Knicks in the first round, but encountered a significant setback in the second round against the Indiana Pacers when Chris Bosh was sidelined indefinitely with a strained abominable muscle. The Heat’s dynamic duo, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, took the series over and went on to defeat the Pacers in six games, despite Bosh’s injury.

The Eastern Conference Finals proved even more challenging. Although Bosh had finally returned, the Heat had their backs against the wall as they faced elimination in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics. Yet, LeBron James displayed sheer determination and put together an unforgettable performance as he exploded for 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. He became the first player to post such remarkable statistics for a NBA playoff game since Wilt Chamberlain. This outing spurred the rest of the Heat as they were able to finish off the wily, veteran Celtics in the decisive seventh game and punch their ticket to the Finals.

Oklahoma City has the home court advantage in this series, meaning the team has the opportunity to play four out of the maximum seven games in front of a very raucous hometown crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. That should not faze LeBron James though, whose matchup with Durant provides a glimpse of what the future holds for professional basketball. Expect a fast-paced series where budding stars such as James Harden will rise to the occasion and contribute significantly to their respective team’s quest — raising the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA Champions.