HOUSTON — No player in NBA history has accomplished the three-pronged feat Kevin Durant is now creeping closer to completing.
With only 29 games remaining in his 2012-13 regular season, Durant continues to lead the league in scoring while producing an especially rare show of shooting accuracy. If he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder to the best record, Durant will become the first player ever to win the scoring title, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line and do it all on the league's best team.
And yet Durant still could fall short of his first Most Valuable Player award.
That's right. A season so dominant, so efficient, so successful still might not be enough to earn Durant his first league MVP trophy.
He can thank LeBron James for that.
The top two finishers for the award last year again are locked in a two-man battle for the game's most prestigious honor. But for Durant to even be in the conversation, let alone have a shot at winning MVP, speaks volumes about both his improvement and impact given that James is just about universally considered the best player on the planet.
“If I win it, of course that will be cool. That will be something I'll really enjoy,” said Durant, who will compete in his fourth consecutive All-Star Game on Sunday. “But if I don't, hopefully I'll win it sometime throughout my career.”
Durant will do all he can to finish the season strong and strengthen his case. Though he's averaging 29.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocked shots, Durant is resigned to the fact that the honor is out of his control.
“You respect it, but it's sometimes about the story throughout a season.” Durant said of the MVP award. “Because voters are the media, and they love stories, of course.”
James, at the moment, just happens to be the biggest, if not best, story in all of basketball. After finally winning his first NBA Championship in his ninth season last year, defeating Durant and the Thunder 4-1 in the Finals, James went on to help the USA win Olympic gold in London before being named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He then began showing he's as good as ever in his 10th season.
James is averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from 3-point range, both career highs. He recently strung together six straight games of at least 30 points on 60 percent or better shooting. In the game that snapped the streak, James thoroughly outplayed Durant as the Heat routed the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
“LeBron, especially lately, has been on another planet, the things he's been doing,” said Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs and Western Conference All-Star coach. “He's on a heck of a run. Obviously, he's probably the guy to catch (in terms of) MVP if he continues to play the way he's playing. But there's a lot of season left. We'll see how teams and players do down the stretch.