April 4, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) dribbles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) in the fourth period at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE
LeBron James went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant on Wednesday night, and while his Miami Heat knocked off the Thunder, LeBron may have decided the MVP race. But the war is just getting started.
Everyone has a different definition of the MVP. Some say it's the most dominant player in basketball, some say it's the player with the best advanced stats, some say it's the player who does most for his team. Whatever your definition, LeBron James will always be in the top two or three, but he won't always win it.
His greatness weakness in the MVP debate is that he's is 6'9 and 260 pounds, faster than all but a handful of players in the league, with skills across the board and production to match.
He's a freak of nature. Closer to Shaq than Michael Jordan. So, when it's time to weigh MVP credentials, too many voters look at his earth-shattering, history-making numbers as a reflex. LeBron has competition from someone like Kevin Durant for the same reason Shaq didn't win five straight MVPs in his prime. Even if he's the most dominant and obviously does the most for his team, nobody wants to give the award to the Incredible Hulk every year.
That brings us to Wednesday night's Heat-Thunder game. For the past few weeks, the buzz behind Kevin Durant's MVP campaign had multiplied, pulling him dead-even in the MVP race with LeBron, for most of the same reasons listed above.Then Wednesday night happened, and anyone who saw the game can't possibly pick Durant.
It wasn't just LeBron's numbers (34 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 assists, seven rebounds, four blocks); it was plays he made down the stretch that turned the game around. Key buckets here, a crucial rebound to secure the win, all while playing lockdown defense that looked way too easy. It was the Eastern Conference Finals all over again, where he was toe-to-toe with his closest MVP competition and on a completely different level.
Part of that's on Durant, for the same reasons Derrick Rose looked inferior in May last year. Where LeBron makes it all look easy, Durant looked as frustrated as Rose did in the Eastern Finals. Not bad, exactly, but nowhere near as dominant and effortless against LeBron (and the Miami defense) as he's been against the rest of the league. Forced shots, out-of-control drives, and ultimately, just not quite enough down the stretch to take control of the game. Against his stiffest competition, KD had nine turnovers; LeBron had two.
With two great teams or two great players, it comes down to who sets the tone and who adjusts. Wednesday night was as close to a playoff game as you'll ever find in the regular season, and LeBron set the tone while KD tried to keep pace. If you're voting for MVP this year, Wednesday gave us the two best contenders in a crucial game, and there was a clear, indisputable winner.
Having said that... This is just prelude. Arguing about the MVP now is like arguing over the Best Actor Oscar. KD and LeBron are in a race for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and on that front, Wednesday night gave us two obvious conclusions.
A) LeBron is the MVP in 2012. He tilts the court in his team's favor on both ends, he scores, rebounds, and passes as well as anyone in basketball, and in crunch time, he makes Kevin Durant's life a lot harder while making it all look easy for himself. MVP.
B) This is a War. If it wasn't obvious before this season, this year's made it clear: LeBron and KD will be locked in a war for supremacy that spans the next decade. And if KD is not quite as good as LeBron right now, the Heat may not be quite as talented as the Thunder right now. Durant didn't play well past the first quarter, but OKC was still within striking distance all game. If there's a gap between the superstars, it's bridged by their teams.
So more than anything else, Wednesday's MVP battle was just a reminder that the biggest battle yet is looming in June. And then next June, and the one after that. If you're arguing about the MVP, just remember that "Most Valuable" means nothing to the KD-LeBron war going forward.
They are both way too good to care about who sportswriters prefer. Everyone has a different definition of what makes an MVP, but ask Dirk: "The best player on the best team" always gets the last laugh.