LeBron James' Miami Heat is on top of the NBA and seemingly got stronger this summer, but nobody loaded up like the Los Angeles Lakers, who acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to complement Kobe Bryant.

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LeBron James against Kobe Bryant is the dream NBA Finals matchup that has not yet become a reality.

Maybe this is the season.

James’ Miami Heat is on top of the league and seemingly got stronger this summer, but nobody loaded up like the Los Angeles Lakers, who acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

Either James or Bryant has played in the last six NBA Finals. Now, with more help, they are facing title expectations again — and a sense they are due for that long-awaited showdown with each other in June.

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“If we see that matchup, Kobe versus LeBron, I think it would break all the records,” said Magic Johnson, Lakers Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst. “I think the viewership would be off the charts.”

It is no guarantee, of course. The Oklahoma City Thunder remains a force in the West, making a James-Kevin Durant rematch in the Finals a reasonable scenario. Or maybe the Boston Celtics, who came close to knocking out the Heat last season, can finish the job this time even after ex-Sonic Ray Allen ditched them to join James on South Beach.

But even the guys chasing King James concede how difficult it will be to dethrone him.

“The good news is, he’s the clear target,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We know who we’re going after, there’s no doubt about that. But he’s awful good. He’s a good guy, he’s great for the league and he’s a great player. That’s good for everything.

“But now let’s beat him.”

The Celtics get the first shot, visiting the Heat in Tuesday’s season opener. The Lakers open later Tuesday against visiting Dallas.

The Lakers acquired Howard, the league’s best big man, after surprisingly adding Nash, long one of the best point guards, earlier in the summer.

“The hunger from Dwight and Nash can definitely, definitely help our energy,” Bryant said.

Harden is traded

to Houston

Unable to work out an extension with James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded last season’s Sixth Man of the Year to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, breaking up the young core of the Western Conference champions.

The Thunder acquired guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. Oklahoma City also sent center Cole Aldrich, and forwards Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston.

Wednesday’s deadline to extend Harden, 23, or allow him to become a restricted free agent in July had been hanging over the Thunder virtually from the moment players reported to training camp.

“We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement.


• The Portland Trail Blazers waived five players, including former Gonzaga standout Adam Morrison and ex-Washington Husky Justin Holiday.

Morrison, 28, has played in 161 NBA games, most recently for the Lakers in 2010. He thanked the Portland organization for giving him a chance and told CSNNW.com, “Right now, I’m just going to talk to my agent and see where to go from here.”

• As for other ex-Gonzaga players, Micah Downs was waived by the Boston Celtics and Steven Gray was let go by the Washington Wizards.

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