Although the Thunder continues to battle for the penthouse position atop the NBA power rankings, three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant has been replaced by Miami’s LeBron James for the top step in this year’s Most Valuable Player race. Durant finished second to James in last year’s MVP voting and had been viewed as this year’s front-runner the past two-plus months. All this will add some luster to Thursday’s 7 p.m. contest between the Thunder (39-12) and Heat (34-14) at Chesapeake Energy Arena to be nationally televised on TNT.
Durant’s recent decline is through no fault of his own. Thanks to OKC’s average victory margin of 25.3 points in its last four games, Durant has sat out four straight fourth quarters. In fact, teammate Russell Westbrook was named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for Feb. 4-10 despite also not playing a single second in the fourth quarter in that span.
Durant’s respite has coincided with James playing the most efficient ball of his stellar career. James became only the third player in NBA history to score 30-plus points and shoot 60-plus percent from the field in five straight games. In those five games, the three-time MVP has averaged 31.0 points and shot an astonishing 71.4 percent (55 for 77) from the field and 60.0 percent (9 for 15) from 3-point range. You can read the latest USA Today poll for league MVP here.
And while Durant has cheered on teammates during the final quarter of the last four games, New York’s Carmelo Anthony has averaged 41 minutes and 23 shots the last four outings to slip past Durant in this year’s scoring race, 29.0 to 28.9. Durant fans can take solace in the fact that team success has always meant more to Durant than individual accolades, and nothing has changed.
OKC takes its four-game winning streak into Utah for an 8 p.m. contest today. Miami has won five straight and hosts Portland at 7:30 p.m.
- John Rohde