MIAMI — Reggie Jackson called him the baddest man on the planet.
Nick Collison insisted he's playing the best basketball of his career.
Scott Brooks said he'll be an MVP candidate until he calls it quits.
Reggie Miller declared he's already won this year's MVP race.
Everyone, it seems, is raving about Kevin Durant these days.
The Thunder star has become the story of this NBA season and a heavy favorite for this year's MVP honor, thanks in large part to the sizzling hot streak he's on. Durant has scored at least 30 points in 11 straight games and has five 40-point games this month. He's averaging a shade below 37 points in January and has his team, without super sidekick Russell Westbrook, on an eight-game winning streak and stubbornly clinging to the Western Conference's top seed entering Wednesday's highly anticipated showdown at Miami.
The stretch prompted Heat star LeBron James to liken the steady stream of Durant updates texted to him to having a “KD” app on his phone.
“I'm just going out there and having fun, man,” Durant said. “I'm not coming in saying ‘I have to do this, or I have to do that.' I'm not one of those guys that predetermines anything. I just go off how the game is played and the different schemes teams are throwing at me and just be aggressive that way. I'm just enjoying it and having fun with it and taking it a day at a time.”
And that's a scary thing.
Because not even the baddest man on the planet knows what he might do next.
But this much is clear: Each passing performance at this point is only boosting Durant's candidacy for his first career Most Valuable Player Award.
He says it's too early for MVP talk. But his play is driving the conversation.
“I'm just trying to inspire the team by my play; just playing hard and being emotional,” Durant said. “And hopefully it helps. Sometimes, it may not. But I got to take that risk, take that chance.”
Durant's latest and greatest opportunity to build on his already immaculate résumé comes in the form of a potentially pivotal matchup with James, the four-time MVP who has led his Heat to back-to-back NBA titles. It's the first of two meetings between the two and one of several factors that could swing MVP votes in the second half of the season.
James is widely considered a close second to Durant in the MVP race.
“We just got to play hard,” Durant deadpanned when asked about the matchup. “It's a regular game. It's another game for us. We just got to focus on us. Of course, we respect our opponent, but we don't come into the game saying ‘We have to stop this guy.' We got to stop their whole team. We just got to focus on us and do what we do.”
James is taking a different approach, at least publicly, telling Miami reporters Tuesday that slowing Durant is his primary focus.
“It's not secondary,” James said. “It's first-dary.”
Historically, head-to-head matchups stick in the minds of voters, especially whenever one of the two candidates thoroughly outperforms the other.
It could be argued that Durant has played James to a virtual draw in their matchups over the past three seasons. But James' teams have shown a mastery level of dominance over Durant's Thunder. Dating back to James' days in Cleveland, he owns a 13-3 record against Durant, including the Heat's 4-1 Finals win in 2012.
And James doesn't hide the fact that he gets up to face Durant.
“Between he and Melo, they're the toughest covers for me,” James told Miami reporters Tuesday about Durant and New York forward Carmelo Anthony. “It's a game (within) the game. You want to win. But you also want to try to do your part against who you're going against. I like going against the best, and he's definitely right up there.”