Kevin Durant Cements Himself as MVP Frontrunner with Triple-Double in Return

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2014

Jan 25, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) during the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since the 2010-11 season, it's safe to say that the Miami Heat's LeBron James is not the frontrunner for the NBA's MVP award. That distinction now belongs to Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant

The latest example of Durant's crusade to win his first-ever MVP trophy?

A triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers just one night after sitting out a game against the Boston Celtics with shoulder soreness. 

The star forward tallied 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting with 14 rebounds and 10 assists as the red-hot Thunder continued their dominant ways sans Russell Westbrook. They've now won seven consecutive games and eight of the last 10.

And it's all thanks to an absolutely dominant month from the franchise's biggest star. As SportsCenter tweeted out, Durant's numbers are indicative of a player who is primed to end the King James' reign as the league's most valuable player:

He holds a significant advantage in scoring while putting up comparable numbers in both the rebounding and distributing departments. That significant scoring advantage in January has come on the legs of a historic run. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Durant is on the verge of topping a record he now shares with Kobe Bryant and James. 

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Obviously, the counterpoint to Durant's most recent domination is that James holds the advantage over the long haul. However, a look at their season numbers reveals that Durant's season has been every bit as productive as James' on the whole. 

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
Shooting %.504.580
Stats via ESPN

But most importantly, Durant has taken a team that lost it's clear-cut second-best player in Russell Westbrook and kept it humming right along as the Western Conference's top team. 

While James and the Miami Heat sit three games back of the Indiana Pacers in the sad Eastern Conference, Durant has the Thunder remaining atop the NBA's power conference. 

Durant has long been considered the second-best player in the NBA. He's finished second in MVP voting in each of the last two seasons and is the only player who can say he has outscored James in each of the last four seasons. 

The theme of Durant constantly being a runner-up has been well documented. From being the second overall selection in the 2007 NBA draft to multiple second-place MVP finishes and an NBA finals loss, Durant knows a lot about being crowned No. 2. 

However, this historic month for Durant should be enough to finally put him over LeBron James. Whether that means that he'll also break through to take his Thunder to the finals also remains to be seen.

At the very least, fans are going to be treated down the stretch to the most compelling MVP race in recent memory.