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LeBron James has only lost 4 games to Kevin Durant in his career

LeBron has a long history of beating Kevin Durant, both in the regular season and in the 2012 Finals. But there’s surprisingly not a rivalry between them.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It has been nearly three years since Kevin Durant beat LeBron James in a head-to-head matchup, a streak that was extended on Christmas Day when the Cavaliers topped Golden State and the newly acquired Durant on a Kyrie Irving buzzer beater. That makes Durant 4-18 in his career now against LeBron James.

It’s not really KD’s fault. He averages 29.4 points when playing James on 48 percent shooting, to go with nearly seven rebounds and about 3.5 assists. Still, his teams consistently lose to James’. It happened six straight times to start his career (although KD did beat the Cavaliers his rookie season in a game James didn’t play in), and James is now on a five-game win streak against Durant.

James’ teams have all been elite, of course. The Cleveland Cavaliers were always excellent during the regular season back when Durant was on the SuperSonics his first year in the league, so it would make sense that James beat Durant in every matchup back then. Now that Durant is in Golden State, you’d think the tides could turn in what has been mostly a one-sided rivalry.

The Cavaliers play in Golden State on Jan. 16. Until then, we can at least explain why James has such a decisive edge.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat - Game Four Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James plays even more incredibly against Durant.

There’s only one franchise (Boston) that James averages more points against than Oklahoma City throughout his career, and Durant has received most of that punishment. In the two players’ 17 regular season games, James is averaging 29.4 points on 52 percent shooting from the floor and 38 percent from behind the three-point line, while putting up seven rebounds, seven assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

On the one hand, this is obvious. The Thunder have provided a challenge for James, whether he was in Miami or Cleveland. There haven’t really been any blowouts, where James might defer more often and/or sit earlier. Even before Oklahoma City emerged as a perennial playoff team, James dropped 44 and 37 points on them in the two regular season games they played during the 2009-10 season.

We know James has another level he can take his game to in the toughest circumstances, too. We’ve seen it the past two finals, but it happens during the regular season against the right opponents, too. It may just be good fortune that the Heat beat the Thunder so many times when they were both at their peaks, since many of the games did come down to the final minute or two. But with the way James played in those games, it’s not a huge surprise, either.

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The two players aren’t the rivals we thought they would be in 2012.

Many thought the 2012 Finals between Oklahoma City and Miami might kick off a heated rivalry between James and Durant. Even after the Heat marched to a five-game series win for James’ first championship, it seemed like a lock that Oklahoma City would be back.

Durant was incredible in that series, too, averaging nearly 31 points on 55 percent shooting. But in what is becoming a trend, James was even better: He averaged about 29 points on the series while shooting 47 percent from the floor, all while recording 10 rebounds and more than seven assists per game.

Instead of taking shots or refusing to acknowledge the other, Durant and James mostly showed respect. They even found common ground, since both had lost to the Mavericks in the playoffs the year before.

“He was a little upset about the series in Dallas, where they got eliminated by Dallas, and I was as well,” James told reporters before the finals. “So we pushed each other each and every day.”

In the years since, it has been more of the same. The two even worked out together months after the 2012 series, and they both readily acknowledge how good the other is at this sport.

So far, Durant going to Golden State hasn’t changed that, but it’s possible it could. The Warriors and the Cavaliers have the best rivalry in sports right now, even if Durant has been mostly left out of it so far.

It’s also very likely Durant and James will finally face each other in the finals again, five years after their first duel there. Even if they do embrace the rivalry and go after each other like never before, don’t forget they were once good enough friends to face each other in a flag football game in 2011.

But even then, some things never change. LeBron James won that game, too.