The 2013-14 race for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award looks set to be one of the most hotly contested two-player duels in league history.
In one corner, you have Miami Heat forward LeBron James, two-time reigning MVP, and four-time winner. In the other corner, you have Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the 25-year-old upstart and runaway scoring title champ.
In the MVP race, you are either "Team LeBron" or "Team Durant."
But Team Durant has added one surprising supporter on Wednesday: LeBron James.
Believe it or not, James believes it would be "great" if Durant took home the award, per the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman:
I think K.D. has had one heck of a season, and if he was rewarded with the MVP, it would be great. It would be awesome for him, for his family. It would be a great thing for him. He has played MVP-type basketball.
What has set Durant apart? James believes it is the remarkable consistency of his performance this season, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
LeBron on Durant: "I would say he's the most consistent player as far as MVP this year."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 9, 2014
Durant certainly has a statistical case to win the award. He is averaging 32.0 points per game this season to go along with 7.6 rebounds per game and 5.6 assists per game, while James is averaging 26.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
While the Oklahoma City forward long ago left his Miami counterpart in the dust in terms of scoring—he has averaged more points per game than James in each of the last four seasons—Sam Amick of USA Today believes Durant should win this season's MVP due to his improvement in other areas of his game:
The 25-year-old who fell to James' Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals is on the verge of becoming the fifth player in league history to win at least four scoring titles, and his 32 points per game is not only on track to be a new career high but nearly five points per game better than the second-place scorer, the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony. Remarkably, he did it within the context of his most versatile season yet. Ironically, he had to become more LeBron-like, one might say, in order to finally get the best of LeBron on this front.
In all likelihood, both players have more important things on their mind than the MVP race. James and Durant will each head into the postseason with major injury concerns surrounding a critical teammate. For the Heat, that player is shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who has missed 26 games this season due to knee trouble. For the Thunder, point guard Russell Westbrook is still not playing the second game of back-to-backs as he recovers from two knee surgeries in the last 12 months.
No matter who wins this season's MVP award, there remains a distinct possibility this "LeBron vs. Durant" argument will re-emerge in the NBA Finals. If the Heat and Thunder can win their respective conferences, fans will be treated to a rematch of the 2012 duel ultimately won by James and the Heat.
Should both teams meet once again in the Finals, however, there is no guarantee history will repeat itself. Durant has taken his game to another level this season, and even his greatest rival has taken note.
All statistics courtesy of stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.