Some media-aided venting couldn't kill that narrative. For that, KD had to hit the stat sheet so hard that James could no longer serve as the standard.
While the rest of us assumed he was coming for the King, Durant targeted the "G.O.A.T." instead: Michael Jordan.
There's often a blasphemous feel to linking anyone's name with Jordan, but this comparison comes not from the overzealous talking heads. This one jumps right off Durant's stat sheet, stuffed in a way the basketball world hasn't seen for decades:
Kevin Durant, according to Elias, now on pace for NBA's first 32+ PPG, 7+ RPG and 5+ APG season since a certain Michael Jordan in 1988-89— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) March 24, 2014
It should go without saying, but it has to be said: Durant isn't Jordan.
He doesn't have the Hall of Famer's resume, jewelry collection or tongue-wagging showmanship. The only shoulder shrugs seen at a Durant game come from the white-flag-waving defenses helplessly trying to contain the three-time scoring champ.
"If you got Kevin Durant on your team, you're safe," Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez said after Durant's 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist explosion last week, via SB Nation's James Herbert. "He's like Jesus in this league."
Durant has marquee ability—and marquee numbers—but not the selfishness you'd expect from a scoring savant. Only one other time in his seven seasons has he averaged more than 20 field goals a night. Jordan only averaged fewer than 22 shots three times in his 15-year career.
Yet, KD has managed to set out on a scoring surge unseen since Jordan's early days:
Kevin Durant has 35 straight games of 25 or more points. Last player with a longer streak- Michael Jordan, 40 in 1986-87— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 25, 2014
And he's not in the least bit chasing points. If anything, he's almost avoiding them.
"Let's face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he's scoring now, he really could do that," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, via ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team."
Durant has increased his offensive volume (he's firing up a career-high 20.7 shots per game), but he's lost nothing in terms of efficiency. If not for an 86.8 free-throw percentage, he'd be in line for his second consecutive 50-40-90 season—while pouring in a league-leading, career-best 32.1 points a night.
Between his uptick in assists, his impact on the glass and his quantity-plus-quality point production, he's leaving a nightly imprint in the box score that bears a striking resemblance to Jordan's trademark Jumpman logo:
Kevin Durant on pace to be 1st player to avg at least 30 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast while shooting 50% from floor since Michael Jordan in 1991-92— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Durant came into the league getting buckets in his sleep, but he's been busy making additions to his arsenal ever since.
He's learning how to make best use of his freakish combination of size and skill.
He can see over the top of a defense and shred it with his passing. His assist percentage has climbed more than five points over his previous career high (27.2, up from 21.7), while his turnover percentage has dropped to a three-year low (12.4).
Defensively, he's frustrating his opponents almost as much as he does at the opposite end. At his natural small forward spot, he's yielding a minuscule 10.4 player efficiency rating against (league average is 15.0), via 82games.com. When he mans the power forward position, that number only climbs to 13.2. His 0.59 points per possession allowed on isolation plays is 24th-best in the NBA, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).
He's having an elite-level impact on all facets of the game, a necessary step in the rise from superstardom to historical dominance. His total body of work this season stands right alongside the seventh years of James and Jordan's careers.
Yet, Durant isn't buying the hype his numbers have created. That is, his prolific production hasn't distorted his vision of his ultimate goals.
He has all the confidence his box scores say he should. But he's still grounded.
That all became apparent when he was asked recently if he was comfortable with hearing his name mentioned alongside Jordan's as frequently as it has been. His response, via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
I’m comfortable with it. But Jordan has done way more than just score 25 points in however many games. He’s a champion, an MVP, a Finals MVP. He’s done it all. So I’d rather be in that conversation with him. But it’s definitely an honor to be in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. I never want to take that for granted. But I’ve got bigger goals in mind.
In other words, we haven't seen his best work yet. If that isn't a nightmarish thought for opposing defenses, I don't know what is.
Their seventh seasons held significance for both Jordan and James. The former collected his first of six championship rings that season. The latter brought home the second of his four (for now) MVP awards.
For now, Durant's resume is blank in both categories. But that might only be a formality, at least as far as the individual hardware is concerned:
Magic Johnson says LeBron James made a charge for a minute, but Kevin Durant is clearly MVP this season. » pic.twitter.com/VneYjkYerM— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 24, 2014
As for the team trophy, OKC is certainly on the short list of legitimate contenders. The Thunder might not be the clear-cut leader of that group, but they do have the league's second-best winning percentage (.743) and third-highest net rating (plus-7.3 points per 100 possessions).
Oh, and they have Durant, a statistical Jordan clone.
His Thunder will likely have to slay James' two-time defending champion Miami Heat to claim the game's greatest gift.
But KD won't be channeling his inner-LeBron to make it down the path to the podium. This MJ impression is working just fine.