LeBron James came off one of his best games of the season heading into the All-Star Break, scoring 36 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and his first regular season game-winning three point shot against a top ranked Western Conference team in the Golden State Warriors. This is all while in the midst of a top heavy Western Conference road trip.
James has been on fire recently, averaging 28.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.4 and 2.1 steals over the last five games. These are MVP caliber numbers and would hands down help James in winning his fifth MVP award of his career, but this type of stellar play has already been done by someone else this season, and perhaps at an even higher level. That player is of course Kevin Durant.
What has Durant averaged over the last five games? 35 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.2 steals. Over the span of these five games, both teams (the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder) have gone 4-1. Both players are ramping up their play in an effort to snatch the MVP award away in these final months of the NBA regular season. One game in particular could help determine who will wear the crown as MVP this season, and that game is on Feb. 20, when the Heat take on the Thunder. This will be the last game between these two squads before a potential NBA Finals matchup, which means that this will be the last chance for both fans and coaches to witness which team, and more specifically which player, has been more dominant this year.
Although James outscored Durant in their first matchup by one point, the Thunder got the best of Miami by outscoring them by 17 points at the final buzzer. The game was largely lopsided, as James seemed to be doing most of the heavy lifting for a very flat veteran Miami squad. Durant, on the other hand, got plenty of assistance from potential Sixth Man of the Year Reggie Jackson and the rest of the Thunder’s role players.
James has to become a more complete player in this second matchup and trust in his teammates to make the shot. Although James’ scoring output was high, both his rebounding and assists were at three, which is extremely low for what James typically averages. That has to change. If James loses this second game against the Thunder and Durant has another monster night, it will all but seal up the MVP award for Durant this season. If James is able to shut down Durant and give Miami the much needed win it needs against this quality Western Conference foe, then he might have a chance of gaining momentum back in this race. Durant is leading at the moment, but the outcome of Feb. 20’s game could change everything.