Why Kevin Durant’s Lock on NBA MVP Is Slipping

Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison, licensed through Flickr via Creative Commons

Source: Keith Allison / Flickr

Between Christmas and the NBA All-Star Weekend, Kevin Durant went on a run that exceeded the highest expectations you can have for a basketball player. Averaging 35 points, 7.5 rebounds, and nearly 7 assists per game, Durant appeared to lock down the Most Valuable Player trophy LeBron James has earned in each of the past three seasons. Just a few weeks later, Russell Westbrook’s return and James’s blistering play have cast doubt on who the real MVP is. Here’s why Durant may find himself looking up at LeBron once again when the MVP votes are tallied in April.

A second weapon in OKC

Durant ascended to MVP status in January for his play during the absence of Westbrook in the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup. Without that lethal scorer and point guard, Durant led the Thunder on a torrential run through everyone. However, Westbrook’s return to action against the Heat on February 20 was overshadowed by James’s monstrous game. Scoring the first 12 points for the Heat and not letting up until he broke his nose dunking over Serge Ibaka in the fourth quarter, James stormed his way back into the discussion to a national television audience.

TNT announcers wondered why Durant didn’t simply grab the ball and respond to the onslaught, but LeBron’s statement was made. Whether it was trying to acclimate to playing with Westbrook or simply a bad game, Durant’s rock-solid case for MVP has been chipped. In a March 6 loss at Phoenix, the Thunder squandered a double-digit lead, but almost as newsworthy was who led the scoring for OKC. It was Westbrook, with 36 points.

LeBron’s inner monster returns

While there was much media chatter surrounding Durant’s epic run, LeBron seemed to take matters into his own hands following the All-Star break. After manhandling the Thunder, James took a few days off to recover from his broken nose and returned with a protective mask. His performance on March 3 against Charlotte brought out some very high-profile boosters.

Magic’s endorsement was discussed by NBA analysts across the country, most of whom now see the MVP contest as neck-and-neck between LeBron and Durant.

A view to season’s end

As of March 9, the Heat have twenty-two games remaining on their schedule to the Thunder’s twenty. Both teams continue to battle for the top playoff spot in their respective conferences. While the Thunder must fend off a late advance from the healthy San Antonio Spurs, the Heat have two games to pick up on the cooling Indiana Pacers. In other words, the Heat and Thunder have an awful lot to compete for in the coming weeks.

LeBron James has emerged from the All-Star game with a chip on his shoulder and a mask on his face. Kevin Durant still has a considerable edge in points-per-game, plus ten games of scoring 40 points or better (no other player has done more than five times). The race to the finish line has several variables, but Westbrook’s return and LeBron’s terrifying surge may matter most of all.

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