Kevin Durant is doing all he can to earn his first NBA MVP award, but LeBron James keeps getting in his way.
Of course, it comes down to Durant vs. James. Isn't that what always happens with the league MVP? Those guys have finished first and second in the voting three of the past four years.
Except usually, James wins out. Now though, it seems like Durant may have the best shot to finish the season as the league's Most Valuable Player. And ultimately, it's going to come down to the narrative.
You know the narrative. It's what determines our awards constantly.
Often, it leads us to the right decision. Sometimes, though, we end up with Derrick Rose as our MVP because we're angry at a post-Decision LeBron or unable to conjure up an inspiring story for Dwight Howard.
This year, we have two remarkably deserving MVP candidates. Really, neither pick is the wrong one.
Choose James or Durant and you're not going to look silly. At this point, though, with 14 games left for Durant and 16 for James, doesn't it seem like KD owns the slight edge in public favor? And as long as he can hold on to that, he may be able to earn his first career MVP award.
Lead the NBA in Scoring
It's all but guaranteed at this point that Durant will finish No. 1 in scoring, and that will be an historic accomplishment once the last day of the season ends.
KD leads Carmelo Anthony by 3.8 points per game, so the race for the scoring title is essentially over. History is just around the corner.
It's going to be Durant's fourth scoring title in five years. And that means something even though it's not technically specific to this season alone.
Only three players ever have accomplished that feat.
Michael Jordan. George Gervin. Wilt Chamberlain.
That's it. No one else. KD is in elite company. It's only helping the narrative, and Durant MVP supporters are going to boast about that stat to no end.
Scoring is Durant's identity, and players win awards based on that sort of reputation. KD is a lock to win the scoring title regardless of what happens as the rest of the season unfolds, and he can guarantee it even further if he continues his scoring streak.
Keeping the Streak Alive
At this point, Durant is too dominant a scorer. It's become out of control, and someone needs to call him out on it. It's ruining everyone else's fun.
So Kevin, if you're out there at all, I'm talking to you right now. I hope you're listening.
Why won't you stop scoring, Kevin? Can you just give someone else a chance? It seems like it would be the polite thing to do.
But nope, you're awful. Not awful at basketball, just a dominant guy who clearly won't let anyone else in on the fun, because Kevin Durant must score 25 points every single night.
Some people are ball hogs. But you know what you are, Kevin? You're worse. You're an efficiency hog.
You hide behind that whole innocent, adorable I'm-just-here-to-win label, but...oh, who am I kidding? We're all just painfully jealous, Kevin. Why can't anyone else do what you do?
1988! That's 26 years ago.
And you're not showing any signs of letting up. Because you can't. Because that wouldn't be cool. It wouldn't be suave. It wouldn't be the Durant thing to do.
So instead, you've just scored 20-or-more points in 41 straight games, something only Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Tracy McGrady have done in the past 15 years. And you keep saying you don't care about this mind-boggling streak.
But why don't you? You should care about this. It's historic. It's basketball brilliance. It's a stat that your MVP supporters are going to quote over and over and over again.
I think you secretly care. You say you only want the championships, and I'm sure that's the ultimate goal, but no one is going to accuse you of being a bad teammate or a worse person for enjoying this.
So if you're going to make us all feel terrible about our own basketball skills, the least you can do is acknowledge it, and realize that your scoring streak may be essential to MVP voters writing your name first on their ballots at the end of the year.
Carrying the Team
Now that KD gets the point, we have to remember that this MVP race is all about keeping up the narrative, and few actions could continue Durant's story more than going off without Russell Westbrook.
This isn't such an unlikely scenario. Westbrook is scheduled to miss at least one game in each of the Thunder's remaining back-to-backs. That means a minimum of four more contests after Durant's 35-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance Thursday night without Russ.
Oklahoma City is being cautious with its second-best player. And it's not doing anything wrong.
Actually, the Thunder are 100 percent in the right. They need Westbrook to make a championship run, and a hobbled or halfway-healthy Russ isn't going to do them any favors.
So the Thunder are "Dwyane Wading" him and limiting playing time. And not only does that set themselves up for a fresh run, but it also helps Durant move forward in his MVP search.
When did the Durant-for-MVP narrative start? Directly after Westbrook injured his right knee back on Christmas. That's when KD started this incredible scoring stretch.
Once Westbrook returned, the scoring kind of tamed. It didn't completely go away. Clearly, that's not the case. But we're not seeing those 30-shot games from KD anymore, as his field-goal attempts per game are down since Russ came back.
Now though, Durant has four more chances without Westbrook, and we may see him snatch some headlines while leading the team on his own.
KD has averaged 33.9 points per game in contests without his point guard by his side. And though points per game clearly doesn't tell the full story, Durant is going to get the publicity if he drops 40 while carrying his team to a victory. And the headlines matter at this point as much as anything else...
Recency bias. Some of us fall victim to it. The rest of us hate it, but still let it infect our minds anyway.
It's the theory that a group of people will favor whatever the most novel piece of information is when developing an opinion.
Back in January, we considered Durant the clear favorite for the MVP over James because he was going for 40 or 50 every other night. He had to win. Clearly, he was the best, because everything that had happened in the past few weeks was so fresh on all our minds.
As time moved forward though, Durant became a slightly less trendy pick.
Westbrook returned to the team. KD's shot totals just barely went down. He wasn't scoring 40 every other night, just every three nights. And even though he had that inhuman stretch in January, we didn't credit that streak as much as we did in the previous month.
Of course we didn't. It wasn't as current. And that's all this is, recency bias.
James was more dominant than Durant for the first month-and-a-half of the year, but once KD's streak took off, he became the clear-cut favorite. Then, though, LeBron went for 61 against the Charlotte Bobcats, and everything changed once again.
All of a sudden, it was now LeBron who was the MVP favorite.
"This is just an example of how you can't count James out! Sixty-one points is a lot of points!"
Or something like that, as the pundits might say.
It's only human to become a prisoner of the moment. It's completely natural to see something, develop some sort of immediate reaction and then throw that opinion in the face of everyone who's willing to listen. And fortunately or unfortunately, that's how the MVP tends to work.
Heck, it's how most award voting works.
J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year Award last year not because he was the clear, most deserving candidate, but because he caught fire in March and April. And when award races are close, we tend to look at who plays best down the stretch.
This year's MVP race between James and Durant is as close as it's been in years. And whether it's right or wrong, that probably means the trophy is going to whoever has the most memorable final three weeks of the season.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.