There’s one game that needs no hype this week.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat meet tonight in a clash of the titans with all the marbles for MVP at stake. (Okay, maybe a little hype.)
It’s a measure of just how big a deal this is, though, because both Kevin Durant and LeBron James are speaking quietly and in measured, respectful tones about each other. Durant, with Russell Westbrook out, has been a man on a mission the last month, putting together an 11-game streak in which he has scored 30 or more points. James, of course, is the two-time, two-time MVP who badly wants his fifth. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered James seemingly since birth, knows what the matchup means to James.
James has praised Durant unfailingly along the way, joking about how his friends and family send him messages to update him on Durant’s play every night. Those who know him best do it for a reason: They know it acts as motivation. Strong motivation.
And it’s already working. James’ 10 best games of the season? The past 10, coinciding with Durant’s surge. During that stretch James is averaging 28.4 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Of course in Durant’s past 10, he’s averaging 37.5 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. James has been great. Durant has been better.
Durant may be the front-runner for the award, along with Paul George and James, but he isn’t saying anything about whatever implications tonight’s game in Miami may have. “I’m just going out there and having fun, man,” Durant said (via NewsOK.com). “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.”
No hype here, although James noted that slowing down Durant “isn’t secondary, it’s first-ary.”
“He’s in a groove,” he said of Durant. “And when you’re in a zone like he’s in, it [doesn't] matter how much film you watch [as an opponent], you just try to make it tough on him. He’s going to make shots. He’s going to make contested shots when you’re playing great defense on him.
“Individually, he can’t be stopped by any one-on-one player. There’s nobody that can guard him one-on-one…Even in his short career, he’s one of the greatest scorers in our game.”