LeBron James and Kevin Durant will go head-to-head for the first time this season when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Miami Heat Wednesday night. This will be the 16 time the two have faced off and 12 regular season meeting. Seeing two of the leading candidates for this season's Most Valuable Player award is a January treat in the middle of the long 82-game haul.
It's been all Durant everything since Christmas Day, as he's arguably been the best player in the NBA through January. The last time he scored less than 30 points in a game was Jan. 5. It's Jan. 29. With great responsibility sans Russell Westbrook has come an incredible flexing of power by the NBA's leading scorer.
LeBron vs. KD
LeBron's still the master of the universe
LeBron James has owned the NBA these past few seasons, winning back to back NBA championships, NBA MVP, and NBA Finals MVP. Despite all of that, some believe the King is about to be dethroned by another NBA superstar.
LeBron vs. KD
He's raised his efficiency and has the world buzzing about his unbelievable play. That the two players are meeting at the apex of Durant's rise makes this regular season meeting all the more interesting. It's the perfect crossroad between narrative and performance. Once the smoke settles, either Durant will walk away one-upping the back-to-back champions without Westbrook or LeBron and the Heat will fend off Durant's stampede. It's a win-win situation from a basketball lover's armchair.
James' teams have dominated Durant's historically, though. He's gone 9-2 over Durant through the regular season and dismantled the Thunder -- a four game sweep after dropping Game 1 -- on the way to his first NBA championship. All of the hardware has gone to King James up to this point. One regular season game isn't going to change their history and it won't seal the future, but it'll make for the most must-watch game of the season thus far. Sorry, Indiana-Miami rematches.
Come for the matchup, stay to see if LeBron takes the opportunity to seize control of defending his MVP trophy. There's no question that the buzz around KD's incredible stretch of play has been more than just a blip on James' radar, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst points out:
The signals are coming out of James left and right recently, in between his discourse about Durant's hot streak. James has been quick to remind people that his shots are down to career-low levels this season, going so far as to say how he was "jealous" of Durant's shot attempts.
This week James said he's been petitioning coach Erik Spoelstra to play more minutes. Virtually never in James' career has he ever publicly talked about wanting to play more minutes.
There aren't many opportunities to take control of an individual award greater than a direct head-to-head meeting. While LeBron's dominated on the team level, Durant's maintained his individual excellence despite losing the vast majority of games against James.
LeBron has been phenomenal in these games too, of course. Wednesday night he has an opportunity to lead his team to a signature victory and leave a lasting impression in MVP voter's minds. They play just twice this season and locking in a victory while Durant earns praise from every angle would be a great way for James to polish the crown he's earned. This is a chance to put out the fire before it engulfs everything.
Beyond all the MVP talk and potential NBA Finals rematch in the future, though, we're getting a phenomenal game of basketball featuring the NBA's top-two talents. A fitting farewell gift to David Stern just days before he steps down from the league he built with star power. Enjoy the game.