By looking at the way the Miami Heat have dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder recently, yet another argument emerges in support of LeBron James' MVP candidacy.
I guess you can add it to the growing mountain of evidence in favor of James being named the league's best player at season's end.
It's not like James, who has been playing at a historically great level as of late, needs to find additional ways to state his case for MVP this year. But it's definitely interesting to view the Heat's consistent mastery over the Thunder as a microcosm of the MVP race.
In Miami's past six games (including the postseason), it has defeated OKC six times. Math has never been my strong suit, but I suspect that means the Heat have a recent winning percentage against the Thunder of 1.000, which is pretty good.
And as is the case with most Heat-related subjects, James has been right in the middle of Miami's half-dozen defeats of the Thunder.
Take last year's NBA Finals, for example. Kevin Durant and the Thunder landed the first blow, winning Game 1 by a score of 105-94. KD dropped 36 on the Heat, and for just a moment, it looked like James and his team were in for a second straight Finals disappointment.
But over the next four games, all of which were Miami wins, James showed that he had a gear Durant simply didn't possess.
LBJ dominated on both ends, finishing the series by scoring 32, 29, 26 and 26 points in Games 2-5. And he saved the haymaker for last, complementing his consistent scoring with 11 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 5.
That triple-double cemented James as the best player alive in 2011-12 and clinched a ring for the Heat. And almost nothing has changed since that fateful June day.
This year, the Heat have handled the Thunder twice more, and each time, OKC hung close at first. The Thunder trailed by just two points heading into the fourth quarter in the teams' first meeting last Christmas. But James and the Heat flipped the switch in the fourth. Dogged defense, opportunistic scoring and, of course, a dominant late-game effort by King James sunk the Thunder.
Miami won that game by a final score of 103-97, and James finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and nine assists on 12-of-20 shooting. Durant played well, too, scoring 33. But it was clear that down the stretch, Miami's King was just too much for OKC's ace scorer.
Of course, James didn't just close the game out late; he also made a statement early. But you get the point.
And then on Valentine's Day, LeBron and the Heat did it again.
This time, Durant put forth an even better effort. But his 40 points still weren't enough to top James' ridiculous final line of 39 points, seven assists and 12 rebounds on 14-of-24 shooting. Yet again, Durant was great, but not great enough. Miami triumphed for the sixth straight time, 110-100.
And that's been the story since last June; Durant and the Thunder put forth a great effort, but ultimately slip behind when James and the Heat start playing at a level their opposition can't match.
KD had better get used to turning in amazing performances for naught.
At season's end, there's a great chance that he'll end up with one of the most spectacular non-MVP campaigns in NBA history. If you're inclined toward visual learning, maybe this tweet from The Fake ESPN will help you understand the chasm between Durant and James in the MVP race:
The Fake ESPN @TheFakeESPN
MVP RACE: 1) LeBron *THE GRAND CANYON* 2) Durant2/15/2013, 3:37:01 AM
Jokes aside, James' and Durant's raw numbers mirror the performances of their teams. LBJ tops KD in PER by more than two full points (31.46 to 29.22). Of course, Durant's figure is closer to James' than it is to the No. 3 player in the league.
Look, there's no shame in coming in second to greatness, whether it's as a team or on an individual basis. Right now, the Thunder are a terrific club with the misfortune of existing at the same time as the consistently better Heat.
The case is the same with Durant. James' individual dominance, and his ability to lift his team to unmatchable levels of brilliance, make him seem invincible.
In the MVP race this year, he'll be just that.
*All stats accurate through games played Feb. 14, 2013.
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