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Column: Durant's late surge heats up MVP race with James

By Eddie Leonard
On January 22, 2014

LeBron James has been the face of the NBA ever since the 2003 NBA Draft. He dominates every sports show almost every day of the week. They could be talking about his game, future, all-time ranking or even his latest tweet. But one thing is for sure, ever since he won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2012, he has been considered the best basketball player on the planet by almost everyone, regardless if they loved him or hated him.
James has won four of the last five league MVP awards, the only blemish being in 2010-11 when Derrick Rose won the award. In reality, it was due to the fact that James left his hometown team of Cleveland in a disrespectful way that disgusted many sports writers.
It has been a long time since James was challenged in the MVP race. In fact he was only one vote away from a unanimous decision last year. However, this year is a different story. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is having one of the best all-around seasons of his career, doing everything the critics said he couldn't do that James could.
James is known for being unselfish, averaging almost seven assists for his career. Durant averaged only about 2.6 for his first four years but he is averaging 5.1 currently. James also has almost always averaged more rebounds than Durant, but this year Durant is averaging a career high 7.8 rebounds per game to James' 6.7. Durant is also slightly averaging more blocks and steals per game than James, with steals being another career high for the Oklahoma City star.
However, the differences in the blocks, steals, assists and rebounding statistics between the two stars is very minimal, less than one in almost every category. That means for now, James is still the leading MVP candidate due to him averaging 26.2 ppg on 58 percent shooting. James is trying to join Kevin McHale as the only player in history to average 25 ppg while shooting 60 percent from the field.
You might ask why doesn't Durant's league-leading 30.9 ppg, another career high, count for more? The answer is that Durant has averaged more points than James for the last five seasons and that has won him zero MVP's.
There are several factors that separated James from everyone else in the field in four of the last five years. First, he can play and defend any position on the floor, something only Magic Johnson was able to do. Second, he could average 25 points, and dish out seven assists and grab seven boards on a nightly basis, making him the most well rounded player in the game. Lastly, he was always the most athletic force and difference maker on the floor, whether that be on his chase-down blocks or drives to the basket.
James is doing everything he has done in the past and more this year with his incredible efficiency. The only difference is that Durant is no longer considered another Carmelo Anthony, a player that just shoots a lot and as a result, scores a lot. Durant is now efficient. For example his career-high of 54 the other night against Golden State Warriors came on 19-for-28 shooting. He is averaging career-highs in points, steals, and rebounds. He can now average 30-8-5 on any night, something only LeBron could do. This year's two-man MVP race between James and Durant might be the closest one we have seen yet.

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