The two leading candidates for MVP will go at it Wednesday night, when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Miami Heat. The MVP award -- or any award, for that matter -- never comes down to just one game, but with OKC's Kevin Durant and Miami's LeBron James in a neck-and-neck battle for the the honor, this matchup will hold major weight in many voters' decisions.
Heading into the game, I've got Durant ahead of James. ESPN stat king John Hollinger probably disagrees, as James is far and away the league leader in player efficiency rating (PER). James, whose PER is a robust 30.54, is the only player in the league above 30 (teammate Dwyane Wade is second at 27.50), while Durant ranks fourth at 26.49.
James also is the only player in the league to lead his team in scoring (26.7 points per game), rebounding (8.1), assists (6.4) and steals (1.9). It's a remarkable feat and shows just how strong of a season James is having. To lead a team, especially a contender, in those four categories is always incredible, but to do so with a top superstar as a teammate (one who, according to Hollinger, is the second-most-productive player in the game) is otherworldly. And that's not to mention the presence of All-Star Chris Bosh, who was one of the game's top rebounders just a few years ago.
But statistics don't always tell the story, and that's why Durant is my MVP, at least right now. While James has dominated the first three quarters of games, he has often played at a lower level in the fourth. While I'm not buying the notion that James chokes in the clutch, I do recognize that he often seems to be a lot more passive in the fourth. Interestingly, he was outstanding in the fourth during Tuesday's victory over Philadelphia. He scored 15 of his 41 points in the final seven minutes while Wade watched from the sideline with a sore knee.
A performance like that makes me wonder if James' fourth-quarter passivity is a result of him deferring to Wade, whether consciously or subconsciously, down the stretch. I don't recall James playing differently in the fourth quarter than he did in the previous three quarters of games while he was in Cleveland. In fact, he was routinely one of the league leaders in fourth-quarter scoring. That's not the case this season.