Update: Last night’s game made the race more interesting. Not only did the Heat win, but LeBron outplayed Durant individually, leading you to think that the MVP discussion is going to heat up (no pun intended) in the second half of the NBA season. Beyond that, it’s fair to wonder whether Durant will continue to play in attack mode, or defer to Russell Westbrook at times (like he did early in the game). Deferring may help the Thunder, but hinder his MVP chances.
It’s only fitting that this column is being penned on a night where the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, two perennial favorites to return to the NBA Finals, are facing off in a nationally televised game on TNT.
There are two reasons, of course, why this game is nationally televised on TNT. One of them wears the number 6 for the Heat. The other wears the number 35 for the Thunder.
LeBron James. Kevin Durant.
Both players are once again favorites to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award this year. Durant is averaging 31.5 points per game as opposed to LeBron’s 26.8. NBA.com also has both listed as two of the most efficient and clutch players in the game.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James are both clutch and efficient. Obviousville Observer headlines for $400, Alex.
This year, the dude who wants to be referred to as “The Servant” (Atrocious Nicknames for $800) may have an edge over King James. He’s averaged almost 32 points a game, and had a stretch of the season where he scored at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games. This included one in which he dropped 50.
Of course, such statistics do come with somewhat of an asterisk. Durant has had to carry this team on his back since Russell Westbrook has not played. Much has been made by many (including myself, admittedly) of the Thunder’s ability to have success in the regular season and playoffs sans Westbrook.
After all, in last year’s playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies when the Thunder had to play without Westbrook, they got exposed. No Westbrook, no championship.
So far in 2013-2014, it’s been no Westbrook, no problem for Loud City. Even without Westbrook, this team is currently 43-12 en route to the top seed in the Western Conference. Also, the key stat is that they’re 23-3 at Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. In the entire NBA, only the Indiana Pacers have a better home record at 26-3 and that’s because they have played more home games than the Thunder.
If those are the kind of statistics this Durant-led Thunder team are putting up without their second-best player, then it definitely helps Durant’s case for his first MVP award. Arguably, KD is playing his best basketball since being drafted in 2008 by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Whatever happened to that team…?
But enough about OKC’s “Servant”. On to Miami’s “King”.
If anyone knows anything about snagging MVP trophies, it’s LeBron James. He has already been the recipient of four of these trophies, including two of the previous three years that he has played for the Miami Heat. His only year with Miami where he didn’t win was in 2011.
Someone named Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls won that year.
Whatever happened to that guy…?
Anyhows, the list of five-time NBA MVPs in the league’s history reads like this:
Abdul-Jabbar actually won six MVPs throughout his career. Also, Russell and Jordan each won their fifth MVPs when they were nearing the ends of their respective careers. LeBron is still in his prime, and will likely be for another four years or so.
And, of course, going in on LeBron’s numbers solely because he’s playing on a team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is nonsense as well. In the four years that he won MVP, not once was James the league’s leading scorer.
His numbers likely will stay the same which could move the MVP conversation into his favor. Meanwhile, because of Westbrook returning soon for the Thunder, it is likely that Durant’s numbers will drop somewhat because he and Westbrook will combine to score 60 points a night instead of #35 having to singlehandedly score almost 60.
We’ve seen occasions over the past three and a half years where Miami would lose games to teams that they had absolutely no business losing to (Sixers at the beginning of the year). But, this team with LeBron as its best player has won the Eastern Conference Championship three consecutive years, as well as the NBA Championship the last two. While they have played a few games against teams that make you think, “Man, did this team even practice before this game?” they do know to go into game mode when it matters the most. That starts with LeBron James and it translates over to the rest of the team.
“Hey! What about us!”
That sound you hear is the chorus of other notable NBA players that also have had their names enter into the MVP discussion courtesy of their play and basketball pundits. In addition to the Association’s two top “alpha males” in LeBron James and Kevin Durant, There are other players that have cases as well.
New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony is averaging 27.5 points a game and nearly nine rebounds as well. Melo’s problem is, of course, that he is on a losing Knicks team that he may not even play for long term. But since the Eastern Conference will have six teams in the playoffs that would be better suited to be selected for the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, the Knicks still have a chance to make the playoffs.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors also will get plenty of support for the MVP from basketball fans inside the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. He’s averaging 24.4 points a game, 9 assists a game and a three point percentage of just over 41%. This guy wasn’t in the three point shooting contest at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans for nothing. Unlike Melo’s team, Curry’s is actually winning, but he doesn’t get as much attention since he plays for a West Coast team not named the Lakers or Clippers.
Who said Blake Griffin was only good for throwing down monster jams? Critics have always said of the formerly named “Blake Superior” that if he could develop a jump shot, that he would be one of the premier players in this league. Griffin is averaging nearly a double-double 24.4 points, has a 30% three point percentage, and almost ten rebounds a game. Along with Chris Paul, and Jamal Crawford, Griffin has gone from a player only known for slam dunks and Kia commercials into someone who is a major reason why the Clippers could reach the NBA Finals.
Speaking of which, there is also Paul George of the Finals-contending Indiana Pacers. So what if he has two first names, he plays sometimes as if there are two of him on the floor. He averages 22.5 points, and six rebounds a game in addition to having a free throw percentage near 87%.
Many are even saying that Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans should get MVP attention despite being on a losing Pels team. Don’t let his Brow distract you from his game on the field, which also seems to always be in unison. He is averaging a double-double with almost 21 points and over 10 rebounds, but second year players (shamefully) on losing teams don’t get much attention for the MVP.
Joakim Noah of the Derrick Roseless-Chicago Bulls, believe it or not, is also getting NBA MVP attention. Even though he has a double-double with nearly 12 points and over 11 rebounds, no way he gets MVP consideration simply because the Bulls have won four consecutive games.
Some in Cleveland are even giving MVP consideration to Kyrie Irving, who already has one MVP—that he received by scoring 31 points in the All-Star Game en route to the East’s 162-155 win over the West. But, just like other players, he won’t get the love LeBron and Durant get because Irving plays for a losing Cavs team that no longer gets the attention they had when they had someone named LBJ.
Love? What about Love? As in Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves with over 26 points and over 13 rebounds a game? Arguably the second (or even third) best center in the game depending on where Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert are. But, again, Love is on a losing team in a conference with Durant, Howard, and Griffin—all on winning teams.
But, of course none of the aforementioned MVP candidates won’t get the attention (or the votes) that LeBron James and Kevin Durant will. These are the two best players in the game, and will be for the next five to ten years. Right now, Durant has the edge over James because of what he’s done as opposed to #6. But, Westbrook, again, will return which may cut into Durant’s numbers with 30 or so games left to play on the NBA schedule.
Kings ruled over Servants in ancient times, and the NBA’s King may very well rule over its Servant once again. In the end, the Westbrook factor could play a role in cutting into Durant’s numbers, and propelling LeBron James into receiving his fifth MVP award.
Thirty-plus games and counting. Bring on the playoffs. Win or Go Home.
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