Last season, Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant opted to sit out of his regular-season finale against the woeful Sacramento Kings rather than take a shot at winning his third NBA scoring title.
Bryant needed 38 points to finish as scoring champ. Instead, he settled for second by 0.17 (28.03-27.86) to Kevin Durant, who would claim his third straight scoring crown. “The scoring title is not that important,” Bryant said that morning in Sacramento. “We know I can do it. We know I can go out and score 38 points.”
This season, Durant has gone as far as to say he is “rooting” for New York's Carmelo Anthony to win this year's scoring title. “He's on fire right now, man,” Durant told a TNT audience after a 100-88 victory at home over San Antonio on Thursday night. “It's a joy to watch and I'm rooting him on. That's one of my guys.”
Whatever happened to the days when NBA gunslingers came out firing in an effort to become the worldwide scoring leader? Like the final day in 1978, when Denver's David Thompson scored 73 at Detroit that afternoon only to be edged out by San Antonio's George Gervin, who poured in 63 points at New Orleans that night to win the scoring title 27.22 to 27.15.
Durant (28.37) and Anthony (28.32) are neck-and-neck for this year's scoring crown, but they seem more interested in standing arm-in-arm.
Imagine the possibilities for Durant and Anthony, who both have home games that tip at 7 p.m. Oklahoma time on April 17, the final day of the regular season.
Better yet, they could have a face-to-face, knockdown, drag-out when the Thunder (56-20) hosts the Knicks (49-26) at noon Sunday in a nationally televised game (ABC) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Then again, the way Durant has sounded lately, he might hand the ball to Anthony at midcourt and say, “Here, 'Melo. You take the title. I already have three.”
OKC coach Scott Brooks feigned he wasn't paying attention to this year's scoring race, but then quickly reeled off Anthony's recent point totals game-by-game. As an assistant with the Denver Nuggets (2003-06), Brooks coached Anthony for his first three seasons in the NBA.
“That's probably not something that he wants,” Brooks said of Anthony winning his first scoring title. “He wants a championship just as much as KD does, but it is exciting. It's always exciting when you're down to the last week of the season.”
Durant and Anthony play for elite teams. The Thunder is in a dogfight with San Antonio for the top seed in the Western Conference, while the Knicks have won 11 straight battling Indiana for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
In NBA history, however, only four players have won the scoring title and team title in the same season — Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers (2000); Chicago's Michael Jordan (1996-98, 1991-93); Milwaukee's Lew Alcindor (1971); and George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers (1949-50).
“Carmelo, Kevin, LeBron (James), Kobe … there's a lot of guys if they really, really, really wanted to lead the league in scoring, they could score over 30 points a game,” Brooks said. “They could run away with it. These guys (Durant and Anthony) are about trying to win a championship, about trying to do what's right for their team.”
When reminded Anthony had just two assists in his 50-point outburst at Miami last Tuesday, Brooks smiled and deadpanned: “Well, if you're on fire, why pass?”
Anthony has been all ablaze his last three outings, averaging 43.7 points while shooting 64.2 percent from the field, 57.9 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line.
“Melo is playing out of his mind,” Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings said Friday after Anthony scored 41 in New York's 101-83 victory over the Bucks.
Anthony, who has missed 13 games this season because of injuries, caught fire after his chronically sore right knee was drained March 14.
“It's April,” Anthony said Friday night. “It's time to go. I always take it back to my knee. That was the most important thing to happen to me, getting to the bottom of that. I give credit to getting that procedure done.”
From 1946-69, the league scoring title was determined by total points before switching to points per game. Either way, Durant would have won the last three titles and would be leading Bryant by 159 points this season.
Since 2006, Anthony has finished eighth, second, fourth, eighth, third, third and sixth in the scoring race.
“He can have it,” Durant said of Anthony wearing this year's scoring crown. “I mean, the stuff he's doing right now, every time he touches the ball, it looks like it's going to go in. He's having a nice, nice run right now and his confidence is high, so I'm sure he's going to take over. If it happens, cool.”
At 21 years, 197 days old, Durant became the NBA's youngest scoring champion in 2010. Outwardly, there is a noticeable difference in Durant's demeanor from his first scoring title to seeking his fourth straight.
“I really wanted my first one,” Durant admitted. “Now, it's cool. Don't get me wrong. I never want to take stuff like that for granted. If it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't, I'm just going to play my game. I'm not going to force it too much and think about it too much and try to get it, but if it's meant to be, it'll happen.”
NBA SCORING TITLES
Most consecutive crowns
7 — Wilt Chamberlain (1959-66)
7 — Michael Jordan (1986-93)
3 — Kevin Durant (2009-12)
3 — Michael Jordan (1995-98)
3 — George Gervin (1977-80)
3 — Bob McAdoo (1973-76)
3 — Neil Johnston (1952-55)
3 — George Mikan (1948-51)
Note: From 1946-69, the league scoring title was determined by total points. Since then, it is determined by points-per-game average.