Calling a Thursday night nationally televised game at Staples Center versus the Lakers a “trap game” is unfamiliar territory. Hell, it doesn’t even right on the screen. Yet such was exactly the scenario for the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of the league’s best record.
For much of the evening, OKC approached the Lakers in similar fashion how Miami approached the Jazz only days earlier. No team – especially one as hot as the Thunder – wants to enter the All Star break on a losing note. It’s like entering Christmas break in college knowing you bombed a final after making A’s all semester. Some stuff just doesn’t sit right.
So when Oklahoma City entered the fourth down 10 to a Lakers squad relegated to D-League jokes much of the season, a temperature gauge was set in place.* Twelve game-time minutes later, the writing was on the wall. Oklahoma City won 107-103 because Kevin Durant wouldn’t allow Oklahoma City to lose. Not to be confused for KD’s finest shooting exhibition much of the night – 14-33 from the floor including 3-13 from three – his 19 final frame points capped off an evening in Hollywood finishing with 43-12-7. Which brings me to my next point.
The Durant and LeBron “anything you can do I can do better” game of H-O-R-S-E is nothing short of scintillating. Take a gander at their stats this month heading into All Star Weekend.
33.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 7.4 APG, 48.5 FG% (11.6-23.9), 31.9 3PT%, 87.3 FT%, 5-2 W/L
28.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 7.8 APG, 3.0 SPG, 51.6 FG% (10.5-20.3), 34.4 3PT%, 69.4 FT%, 5-1 W/L
As obvious as it is, that’s two figures growing closer and closer to inseparable bonds of likeness and dominance. Alien vs. Predator. Montagues vs. Capulets. Superman vs. Batman. Drake vs. Kendrick. Peyton vs. Brady. Jay vs. Nas. It’s the two best players in a dead sprint for an award neither openly admit to chasing, but desperately desire – the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Bans noted MVP awards aren’t distributed in January and they never will be. But cases for them are.
Durant’s first month of 2014 was the Sistine Chapel of nightly scorecards with stat lines masquerading as NBA 2K14 numbers. Then, LeBron – whose January wasn’t exactly anything to scoff at either – flicked that internal switch of his and suddenly discourse became “well, hold on, it’s not over yet.”
Because it isn’t. Durant’s the unanimous midseason MVP, but he’s holding the edge more so by a stiff arm than a sleeper hold. Make no mistake, the LeBron second half surge is on the horizon. The writing is on the wall.
As talented and competitive two superstars as there are in basketball, the silent game of oneupmanship is nothing short of radiant. Watching LeBron Terrorizes The Bay hit theaters Wednesday night only 24 hours removed from dismantling Phoenix was fun. Watching Durant Does Hollywood a night later was another haymaker in a boxing match that’s already featured its fair share of body blows and chin shots.
And if you’re getting as much pleasure out of watching both make Adam Silver’s first two weeks in office the best “welcome to the job” gift possible, strap up. It gets better.
2012 ASG: Durant – 14-25 FG (3-8 3PT), 36 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts, 3 stls | James – 15-23 FG (6-8 3PT), 36 pts, 6 rebs, 7 asts
They’re only two years removed from their 2012 ASG shootout. Durant took home the MVP that evening, an honor which nearly went to LeBron who led an electric fourth quarter charge bringing the East to within one. That was, of course, the same ASG where LeBron chose not to shoot with the clock winding down creating a firestorm of the then-popular “LeBron can’t close” discussion.
Lost in the sauce, however, James and Durant sported near identical stat lines.
So here we are again on the eve of yet another midseason classic with both future Hall of Famers explicitly deadlier than 722 days ago. Both in the midst of stellar seasons. Both in the midst of a silent sprint to the MVP. Both vying to serve as the last man standing come June; one for the third consecutive summer, the other for his inaugural trip. Both in the midst of LeBron’s after practice dunk contest and “Mt. Rushmore” and “when I retire” comments, obvious mental darts in a strategic foray of cat and mouse.
It’s LeBron, Durant and the field for ASG MVP consideration. Play it safe and bet the field in a contest featuring the sports’ best (give or take a selection). But in a season shaping up to be headlined between two guys with two unenviable hairlines and hairstyles, potentially make a killing taking the road less traveled.
New Orleans on Sunday is only the next chapter in a book already filled with several. If we’re lucky to have a close game (aka within 10-12 points) heading into the fourth quarter, the ball will be – on a court filled with several teams’ top options – largely in the hands of the league’s two top stalwarts. The easiest course of action is repeating what was said exactly one year ago today. Just enjoy this shit, please.
Every generation comes equipped with its signature swan song moments. Now with guys like Kobe, Garnett, Nash, Pierce and others staving off the inevitable for as long as possible, we’re learning what’s already been passed down for decades. Sustained greatness is a gift from the heavens coming with its own timestamp. Appreciate the moment.
Oh, and by the way, I forgot. Miami travels to Oklahoma City next Thursday.
* – Despite the Lakers’ struggles this season is the fact Kendall Marshall has been playing quality basketball. He’s averaging 10.5 points and and 9.5 assists in his 25 games with L.A. and his 14 points, seven rebounds and 17 assists (!) nearly helped pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season.