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NBA Miami HeatOklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant’s Rise Has Put Major Pressure on LeBron James

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The king sitting on the thrown has been LeBron James for quite some time. In his 10th season out of high school, James has become the face of the NBA. Winning two NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVPs and four regular season MVP Awards, James has earned the honors of being crowned the best basketball player in the entire world. Prior to the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, it was thought that it would be another year where James would sweep through the league, but when no one saw it coming, Kevin Durant ascended to heights beyond the reach of most players in NBA history.

Both franchises have had obstacles to evade, but the Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder have maintained a steady lead ahead of James’ Miami Heat. Today, Oklahoma City stands firm with their 41-12 record and the Heat are 35-14. Both teams have been bothered with huge injuries all season. Dwyane Wade has missed a lot of time, but the Thunder has remained afloat with Russell Westbrook missing more than half of the season thus far. Reports say that he is about 10 days from making a return to the court, but that is with a blessing. We hope that he will return soon, but Durant has his team in position to be the favorite to win the championship, even without their All-Star point guard.

No one is quick to blame James for the Heat’s slip, but one would have to wonder if Durant’s early-season accomplishments have LeBron worried just a bit. He may not be losing any sleep, but there is the fact that James’ numbers are down in key areas including scoring, rebounds, assists and blocks. If you drop off just a bit in each of those areas, then that should raise some concern. Too bad it’s just swept under the rug, and we are fed those scripted lines we have all heard a million times. Durant’s play has been out of this world. With seven 40-point games, 15 double-doubles and two triple-doubles, Durant has separated himself from the pack. LeBron knows his MVP reign is slipping away day by day, and his time in Miami may be as well.

Whether anyone wants to believe it or not, James’ chances of winning another title are as slim as they have been since he joined forces with Wade and Chris Bosh to form the Big 3. Meanwhile, Durant’s chances have improved greatly as time passes and it only gets better for him and Thunder when Westbrook returns. James feels the heat and it is not the weather in South Beach. The “Slim Reaper” is lurking in the shadows, ready to lead the NBA into the next generation, as the best player in the world. In an interview with Steve Smith of NBA TV, James stated that he will climb to the top of the NBA’s Mount Rushmore (four best players ever) by the time he is finished playing. To me, those are the comments of a man who feels the need to boost his own ego to spite the fact that his time may be up. Here is exactly what James had to say:

“I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped, but that’s not for me to decide. That’s for the architects.”

I will not be one to overlook the fact that Durant is playing better than LeBron has ever played during any stretch in his career. The key for Durant will be to maintain his historical pace into the playoffs and beyond. Miami may be the third or fourth best team right now, as they continue to slip off track. The ground is set for Durant to take the throne and rule high over the land of the basketball. Still, James is not going to go out with a fight. He has a chance to shake things up in the offseason. The Heat may be broken, and I think James knows it. His legacy depends on making another big decision; but with Durant in the league, it may be a little too late.

Brian Anderson is an NBA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAnderson035 “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.