One is called the “King” and has two crowns to his name; the other is aspiring for the throne and is close to getting it. That, in a nutshell, captures the renewed rivalry between LeBron James of the Miami Heat and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After winning his 2nd championship last season, James stood on top of the world, peerless, the best player on the planet. He incidentally captured his 4th MVP Award in 5 years the same season, daring anyone to dethrone him. Less than 8 months after, Durant has quietly taken on the challenge and comparisons between him and James are now heating up. While both have denied being pressured by all the talk surrounding the rivalry, it is obvious that they do care and they are making their game do the talking.
Seemingly tired of being called the 2nd best player in the NBA, Durant is having a breakout season and his numbers are quite phenomenal. He is averaging a league-best 31.5 points per game; nearly 5 points more than the King, has better rebound numbers, but averages 1 assist less than James. In terms of proficiency, KD leads James by half a mile making 51 percent of his 2-point field-goals, 41 percent of his 3-point attempts and 88.2 percent of his free throws. The King’s numbers are 57.4 percent, 37.1 percent, and 75.1 percent, respectively. On the defensive end, James looks to be the better player with his ability to shutdown opponents and defend all positions. Stats show, however, that Durant has better steals/blocks numbers with 2.3 combined versus James’ 1.8 per game.
Interestingly, the Thunder currently own the best record in the NBA (43-12) while the Heat are No. 2 (38-14) in the Eastern Conference. Durant has managed to lead his team despite playing without All-Star Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has missed 27 games this season and the Thunder still won 20 games. During this span, Durant upped his averages scoring 35 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. He is playing so good that he was given a new moniker – “The Slim Reaper”—not just because of his thin frame but his ice-cold composure and stellar play. More importantly and if he sustains his performance, he is likely to be named the next MVP.
In their game yesterday, James avenged a home loss to Kevin Durant as the Heat shocked the Thunder with a 103-81 win. The win was a stern reminder to Durant but before he can reach Olympus, he will have to go through the King and his Heat.
This new rivalry is good for the league and it is right up there with the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry. And like Bird and Magic, I can see stark contrasts. James is friendly, media savvy, and leverages his stardom. Durant meanwhile is soft-spoken, humble, and introverted. But on the court, their differences end. Both are terrifying competitors and like the challenge. And both like winning above all. This rivalry is going to be great.