It’s been a two-man race since the turn of the year, and while Kevin Durant and the Thunder have continued to streak towards a 2-seed in a tough Western Conference, LeBron James and his Heat have fallen on mediocrity in the stretch run — going 5-5 in their last 10 as they battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday, LeBron seemed to capitulate the 2014 NBA MVP to KD when he told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst Durant as playing “MVP-type basketball.”
As Windhorst points out in his piece, LeBron has won four of the last five MVP awards, including the last two. Those MVP awards bookend Derrick Rose‘s ascension to the MVP throne in 2011, and James admitted at the time it was probably going to Rose, though the verbiage was far form conciliatory.
Durant is leading the league in scoring and Player Efficiency Rating (PER), and before you toss in LeBron’s ability to defend four separate positions, know that Durant is ranked in the top 10 this season for Defensive Win Shares (wedged between Thibodeau defensive stalwarts Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson), and it’s much higher that LeBron’s pedestrian — for him — numbers on the defensive end this year.
Just look at this comparison between James, Durant and Doc Rivers‘ fever dream choice, Blake Griffin. The empirical evidence pretty much all supports KD. Plus, Durant did all that damage while leading a Thunder squad missing Russell Westbrook for 35 games after undergoing two separate surgeries this season stemming from complications after last year’s torn meniscus. Despite the absence of his all-star partner, KD led the Thunder to the second-best record in a brutally tough Western Conference. Some will make the argument that Dwyane Wade‘s knee issues throw a similar wrinkle into James’ performance this season, but for the most part KD out-performed LeBron in most statistical categories and KDs team performed better, so the Westbrook/Wade similarities cancel each other out.
James caught up with Windhorst yesterday to give credit where it was due. Via ESPN:
“He’s the most consistent basketball player as far as the MVP this year,” James said about Durant. “He’s put up some great numbers.”
“I think KD has had one heck of a season,” James said. “If he’s rewarded with the MVP, it would be great. It would be awesome for him, for his family. He’s played MVP-type basketball. I don’t really get caught up into what people say. At the end of the day, they have their own votes and they go from there.”
In the only year over the last half-decade LeBron hasn’t won the regular season MVP, 2011, Rose met LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Miami took a 2-1 series lead, the Bulls were close to tying the series in game 4 and had a chance to win in regulation with the ball and a tie game. LeBron, who had started hawking Rose on defense in the fourth quarter, forced Derrick into a badly missed 17-footer as the clock expired and the Heat went on to win in OT, then take the series.
Windhorst ends his piece with a warning, similar to the theme of Taha Habib’s piece for Dime earlier this month:
“In a few weeks, when Durant will likely be holding up that MVP trophy, James will applaud it and truly be happy for his friend and rival. Don’t think for a second, though, that he won’t take it as a personally motivating defeat.”
The only way LeBron could have his revenge after missing out on his fifth MVP award in six seasons would be if he met Durant in the Finals this year. You know, in case NBA fans needed more of an excuse to watch that series if it happened again.
Will James use the MVP award as motivation?
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