Around the NBA: Is Kevin Durant this year’s forgotten superstar?


(Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

With Tuesday’s win over defending NBA champion Miami, the Indiana Pacers strengthened their hold on the top spot in the league standings at 19-3 while Paul George, who is averaging 24.7 points, further solidified his status as a legitimate NBA superstar. But perhaps lost on the radar was what transpired two days earlier. Indiana suffered its worst of the season, a 114-98 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma City and another forward who’s been known to make a few waves: Kevin Durant.

The Montrose Christian alum exploded for 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, besting George’s 32-point performance in a game that often saw them match up with each other. Upon exiting the game with just less than four minutes left, he reportedly exhorted those gathered on press row to “write about that!”

Durant’s outburst — both verbal and on the court — likely stems from the notion put forth by some that George stands as this year’s top MVP candidate not named LeBron James. After all, for the past two years, Kevin Durant was Paul George.

During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Durant took the league by storm in winning his third straight scoring title, earning MVP honors in the All-Star Game and leading the Thunder to the Finals before falling to the James-led Heat.

Last season, Durant upped the ante, becoming the youngest player to join the 50-40-90 club by shooting 51 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from the three-point line and 90.5 percent from the free throw line. The Thunder captured the top seed in the Western Conference, but when Russell Westbrook went down with a playoff-ending knee injury, so too did the team’s chances at winning a title — and seemingly the buzz surrounding the 25-year-old Durant.

Though he hasn’t reached last year’s historic pace, Durant is still putting up big numbers this season. The four-time all-star is averaging a NBA-high 28.4 points and a career-high 8.2 rebounds in pushing the Thunder to a 17-4 record, good for third-best in the tougher Western Conference.

Durant, of course, hasn’t been totally forgotten. He still led the Western Conference in the first round of All-Star Game voting with 607,407 votes, just behind James (609,336) for the overall lead.

What’s more, even George himself admitted that Durant is a tougher defensive assignment for him than James, telling reporters after Sunday’s loss that “when [Oklahoma City plays] against us, [Durant’s] moving a lot. He’s the screener, he’s getting back-screened and he’s coming off pin-downs and it’s a little different when I’m guarding him and it makes it a tougher cover.”

With just more than a quarter of the NBA schedule in the books, there’s still plenty of time for the MVP conversation to fluctuate. Since 1990, the award has been given to a player on a team that finished with the league’s best record 58 percent of the time. At the moment, that distinction is held by the Pacers. But if the words of Oklahoma City teammate Kendrick Perkins are any indication, Durant is determined to not let him or his team got lost in the discussion.

“KD don’t want me answering this question,” Perkins told the Oklahoman, in reference to Durant when asked about the Pacers forward, “because he’s getting tired of hearing about Paul George.”

BY THE NUMBERS
104,765
Dollars that Michael Jordan’s game-worn shoes from the famous “Flu Game” sold for on Thursday, breaking the record price paid for a pair of game-worn shoes in any sport. Jordan gave the shoes to Utah Jazz ball boy Preston Truman following his 38-point, flu-ridden performance in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.

3
Consecutive games won by the Brooklyn Nets following Thursday’s 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, marking the team’s first and longest win streak of the season.

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Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · December 13, 2013