LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant: Breaking Down The NBA MVP Race

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A Two-Man Race

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

To be named the Most Valuable Player of any league at any level is an honor all its own. The MVP award implies that you are the best player out of some-odd players. Not only does the award imply greatness, but it carries the connotation that the winner led his or her team to victory, the winner made his or her teammates better and that player can flourish in any organization. Yes, to be named MVP is the second highest award for any sport behind the Hall of Fame of course.

For two NBA superstars, the Hall of Fame is certainly in their future, but right now it is the MVP award that is in question. LeBron James and Kevin Durant currently lead the race for the league’s most valuable player, with Durant holding a small advantage. Although there is over a quarter of the season remaining, it appears to be a two-man race for the coveted award. Both players have led their respected teams, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, to the top of the Association with few teams able to keep up.

Right now, everyone has Durant leading James in the race, but it is far from over. As a four-time regular season MVP and two-time Finals MVP, James knows a thing or two about winning awards, and this is the time of year he shines.

The “King” will really have to shine if he wants to eclipse Durant, who has been on fire this season. Despite numerous obstacles and injuries to star Russell Westbrook, Durant has the Thunder atop the West with a record of 43-14. If that isn’t impressive enough, he is also averaging over 31 points on the season.

Both James and Durant make very impressive arguments for the MVP award. Each of them plays for a top-of-the-line contender and each is undoubtedly the leader of their team. As April and the playoffs quickly approach, the MVP race will only get hotter. Here is a breakdown of the two candidates and why/why not either of them should be crowned the Most Valuable Player.

Shane Phillips is an NBA Writer for RantSports.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneRantSports, "Like" him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also email Shane at ShaneRantNBA@gmail.com.

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For LeBron James

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Year after year, LeBron James is in the running for the MVP award. With four pieces of hardware already under his belt -- including the last two -- James is once again in consideration. Here are three reasons why James should be named the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player.

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1. Makes Anyone Better

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Whether the players are young and inexperienced or old and on their last leg, James has had an amazing way at making his teammates better. While with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he introduced Daniel Gibson to the rest of the world and gave Anderson Varejao a professional career. Since James went to South Beach, what has either done? Well, Gibson has been rumored to be retiring and I thought I saw Varejao being used by a ball boy to mop up sweat.

All kidding aside, once James joined the Heat, he immediately had an impact on the surrounding players. He has helped extend Shane Battier's and Ray Allen's careers while assisting in the maturation of Norris Cole. This season, he has aided in Greg Oden's comeback while helping keep Michael Beasley in line. Let’s not also forget that James has had to put Dwyane Wade on his back for most of the season.

Part of being Most Valuable Player includes the ability to assist teammates. James does more than assists; he transforms his teammates into better players. From young to old, healthy to injured, James has an effect on everyone. That sounds like MVP material to me

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2. Defensive Mindset

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Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It must be a scary sight to catch the ball, face up toward the hoop in the “triple threat” position and see a big hand in your face. It must be even scarier when you realize that big hand belongs to LeBron James.

If there is one identity that both James and the Heat have tried to maintain over the last four seasons, it has been their defensive identity. Much of James’ and Miami’s success stems from the ability to cause turnovers and get out in transition. James is currently averaging 1.5 steals per game and 7.1 rebounds. I didn’t even mention his blocking ability.

We have seen it time and time again; some guard thinks they have an easy fast-break score and out of nowhere James soars in with his giant wingspan and swats the ball away. James’ block average may be down this season, but he still has the ability to do what seems impossible. It’s great to score 30-plus points per game, but a one-trick pony always losses to the all-around steed.

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3. Plenty of Basketball Left

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Kevin Durant may have played masterful so far this season, but with roughly 25 games or so left before the playoffs, James can still state his case. Not to mention the Heat and James have been known to go on runs post-All-Star Break. The critics might be saying a lackluster season so far, but it isn’t over until the fat lady sings and I don’t hear her yet.

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Against LeBron James

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James might have an impressive resume, but nobody is perfect. Coaches and scouts can dissect the video and find plenty of aspects wrong with James’ game and his plea for a third-straight MVP award. Here are three reasons why James should not be named NBA Most Valuable Player.

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1. Wade and Bosh

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, James has managed to earn two MVP awards with Chris Bosh and Wade as teammates. Usually someone who has two stars as teammates does not win the MVP, but James must be the exception.

Wade has had a bit of a struggle this season and Bosh hasn’t exactly been himself, but they have provided James with more assistance than the injured Westbrook has to Durant. Being part of the “Big 3” doesn’t really boost your MVP chances, especially when the other guy has done miraculous things without his sidekick.

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2. Lackluster Season

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Many analysts have said this all year and I somewhat agree: Miami has had a lackluster season. Yes, they are 40-14, good for second in the East, but their play has not been the subject of discussion. All season Wade’s injuries and James’ contract situation have taken the cake, making on-the-court accomplishment nearly irrelevant.

The fact that everything else overshadows James’ and the Heat’s play only means that the MVP was not meant to land in South Beach for a third-straight year. Either James overloads the highlight reel or the title of “Most Valuable” will be given to someone else.

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3. Time For Change?

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Honestly, in order to even be considered to win a third-straight MVP award, you better be having a season that no one, not even an amnesia patient would forget. You better be scoring at least 30 point a night while sprinkling in a 40-point and 50-point performance here and there. You better be trying to grab every rebound, get every steal, assist on every play and block every shot. You should literally be Superman if you want to win a third consecutive MVP. Unfortunately, James is not having that type of season.

Sometimes change is good for a person, group or league. Sometimes change leads to bigger and better things. James has won the MVP award a total of four times and has won the last two straight. Not only does he currently not have the credentials, but it may be time for someone else to take the throne, for the sake of the Association.

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For Kevin Durant

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the injuries to Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins’ demise, Kevin Durant has been able to find a groove. As the league’s scoring leader at 31.5 points per game, Durant has been on a planet of his own. And it hasn’t been just on the scoring level. He is also averaging 7.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals, either beating or tied with James in every category but assists.

Now that the statistics are out of the way, here are three reasons why Durant should be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

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1. No Westbrook, No Problem

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Durant has had a heavy workload this season as Westbrook has missed 30 games due to injury. But in those 30 games, the Thunder went 22-8, staying strong in the tough Western Conference. Much of the success can be credited to Durant’s insane play, including eight 40-plus point games in Westbrook’s absence. Unlike James, Durant only has one person to fall back on and he was missing for a lot of the season.

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2. Current Scoring Leader

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It’s not often you see a player average over 30 points for an entire season. So, when it does happen, it usually attracts the MVP award. Durant is on pace to average over 30 points this year. It would be the second time he has averaged over 30 points in a season and he would join a small group of players to accomplish the feat more than once. Amongst those few greats are Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Bob McAdoo and Michael Jordan. James is only averaging 26.9 points at the moment. The big advantage goes to Durant.

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3. Evolving as a Player

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Durant wasn’t always the triple threat that he has shown this season. The first few years in the league, he was mostly a scorer with a bit of rebounding. His ability to distribute the basketball was weak as he averaged under three assists his first four seasons

This season, Durant has emerged as an all-around player and the leader of the Thunder. He is averaging the most assists-per-game ever in his career. For years, the difference between James and Durant was the third threat, the ability to get his teammates involved. It appears that Durant now has that skill, evening the playing field.

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Against Kevin Durant

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Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, no matter how great of a season a player is having, there is always someone who will criticize his or her play. But when you are dealing with an award as prestigious as the MVP award, you must be critical and thorough. Here are three reasons why Kevin Durant should not be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

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1. Defense Not a Strong Suit

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Although Durant averages solid numbers in both the blocks and steals categories, he isn’t exactly a lock-down defender. Without a doubt he has made tremendous strides in his defensive game, but I would still take James in a heartbeat. Maybe in a couple of years Durant will have surpassed James in the defense department also, but right now James and his signature block-from-behind own the day.

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2. Solid Supporting Cast

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one thing James and Durant have in common, it is their supporting casts. Both players have a terrific group of teammates to guide them along this long season. Who has the better teammates? That is a question that is hard to answer as both seem even. James has Bosh, Wade, Allen and Chris Andersen. Durant has Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to name a few. The strong supporting casts don’t help either players’ bid for the MVP.

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3. Westbrook's Back!

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This may be the single biggest factor to hinder Durant’s MVP chances: the return of Russell Westbrook. With the star guard injured, Durant was able to be the knight in shining armor. He was the man and there wasn’t another player on the court to challenge that.

Now that Westbrook is back, there is a chance the two will struggle to coexist. We have seen them have their share of disagreements in the past, and there will be some growing pains since Westbrook has been out for such a substantial period. With a quarter of the season still to be played out, there is a chance that Westbrook’s return tanks Durant’s MVP candidacy.

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And The Winner Should Be...

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the pros and cons of both players have been discussed, I suppose you are expecting me to pick a winner. Well, it is your lucky day because I am about to provide you with my prediction for the winner of the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player Award. But I must warn you that this prediction as well as this breakdown of the MVP race may drastically change over the course of the next month.

However, after careful selection, intense deliberation and thorough dissection of each candidate and their argument for the award, I have come to my conclusion. The 2014 NBA MVP will be awarded to, for the first time, Kevin Durant.

There is no question that Durant is having a very special season, and without him the Oklahoma City Thunder would be nothing. James has made a valid argument, but Durant has stolen the spotlight this time. Not only will he be named the league’s scoring leader, but he will also be named Most Valuable Player.

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