For the second time this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will meet up, this time in OKC.
The Thunder beat the Heat 112-95 in the first meeting in Miami back on Jan. 29.
After that win and considering the previous 28 days of January, it seemed clear that Kevin Durant was the front-runner for the MVP award.
The race for the MVP consists of just two players making tonight’s game an extra important one in determining who deserves the hardware.
It’s safe to say that Durant will have a chance to all but lock up his first ever MVP trophy if he and the Thunder outplay LeBron James and the Heat.
But what if LeBron gets the best of Durant? Does he still have a chance to come back in this race and win the fifth MVP award of his career?
Here’s a look at what the two have done this season side-by-side:
Kevin Durant – 31.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 7.8 RPG, 51-41-88 shooting splits, 30.9 PER, .320 WS/48 min.
LeBron James – 26.8 PPG, 6.5 APG, 7.1 RPG, 57-37-75 shooting splits, 29.3 PER, .268 WS/48 min.
As you can see, Durant has a pretty significant edge overall at this point in the season. The Thunder also have the best record in the league while the Heat are second in the Eastern Conference. The narrative supports Durant over LeBron too.
But that narrative could change in the second half of the season and tonight in particular.
LeBron has been on a tear over his last three games and has been extremely clutch in the fourth quarter in those games as well. If he continues that kind of play tonight in OKC and the Heat dismantle the Thunder, Durant’s grip on this season’s MVP will loosen.
Russell Westbrook’s return to the lineup may also result in a cutback in Durant’s numbers. We know he probably won’t shoot as much with Russ in there and his assists could dip as well.
Even if Durant’s numbers take a hit, and it would likely only be a minor one, LeBron would really have to go on a tear to catch Durant in the numbers department. It isn’t too crazy to think LeBron could catch Durant in PER or that the Heat could catch the Thunder in the standings.
Is the MVP award on the line tonight? Not totally. Not just yet. Durant could get outplayed by LeBron and the Thunder could lose and he could still eventually win the MVP. Durant has created that much of a gap at this point in the season between himself and the King.
But tonight’s game isn’t just any regular season game. A lot is riding on this one. You’ve got Westbrook’s return, the potential for the Thunder to sweep Miami in the regular season and of course, the MVP race.