Feb 20, 2014, 11:26 PM EDT
Throughout the first half of this season, Kevin Durant has widely been discussed as the player most deserving of receiving the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
While Durant has been largely spectacular, those championing his cause may have neglected to consider one simple fact: LeBron James hasn’t exactly gotten worse, and in fact, may still be far and away the league’s best player.
James asserted himself against Durant’s Thunder from the opening tip on Thursday, scoring 16 of his 33 points in a blistering first quarter on Durant’s home floor that left little doubt as to where the MVP should ultimately reside. Miami cruised to a 103-81 victory, as James continued a personal assault that has now lasted four straight games.
LeBron finished with 33 points on 22 shots, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. But it was that first quarter performance that knocked the Thunder on their heels, and struck doubt into their hearts.
When James puts forth maximum effort, it’s a scary site for opponents that is essentially impossible to stop. In this one, he scored his team’s first 12 points, and was active on the defensive end at the same time, creating steals that led to run-outs in transition.
It was really no different than what we’ve seen from James since the two contests before the All-Star break, where he’s clearly stepped up his game in order to help his team prepare for the postseason with a second half push. He scored 37 and 36 respectively in Phoenix and Golden State, before following up those efforts with a 42-point outing in Dallas immediately after the All-Star break.
The first quarter in Oklahoma City, however, was meant to make a statement.
James has heard all season long that Durant was the MVP, and there was no better time than in OKC on national television to let everyone know he wasn’t ready to concede that distinction. There’s no other way to explain the way he dominated from the jump, and was so visibly upset when a long three-point attempt — his sixth shot of the game — was the first of the night that he saw rim out.
LeBron wanted this one, or at the very least, he wanted to make sure he performed at his highest level if his team was going to end up with a loss. But his highest level almost makes that an impossibility.
Durant was fine in finishing with 28 points, and Russell Westbrook returned from injury to chip in a rusty 16 on 4-of-12 shooting. But when LeBron is this locked in, the only thing that can stop him is injury, and even then, he’ll still likely end up scoring.
James took a shot to the face that left him bloodied with under six minutes remaining, but managed to finish the dunk on the play where the contact occurred nonetheless.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were spectacular for the Heat as well, and that’s been the strength of this Miami team through back-to-back championship seasons. But it all started with LeBron, and his dominating first quarter effort that had MVP written all over it.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Even if another team signs him to an offer sheet, the Warriors will just match it.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
Aldridge and Kobe Bryant didn’t quite click in their meeting.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
The Suns look like a team ready to run again.
Jul 1, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Boston gets nice value on a short-term frontcourt upgrade.
Jul 1, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT
The road to the NBA Finals out of the East — and maybe to the Larry O’Brien trophy itself — goes through Cleveland.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Love returns, just as he maintained all season long.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Butler will remain in Chicago as expected.
Jul 1, 2015, 2:28 PM EDT
The Pelicans were +10 per 48 minutes with an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions) when Anthony Davis and Ajinca were paired last season.
Jul 1, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
New York is getting an audience with all the big names.
Jul 1, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT
Nice get for Toronto, and a Hawks team that won 60 games is going to look very different next season.
Report: Spurs reach deal to trade Tiago Splitter to Hawks, create cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge offer
Jul 1, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
The Spurs can now offer Aldridge the chance to return to his native Texas and walk right onto a serious title contender.
Jul 1, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
That’s a great signing for San Antonio.
Report: Kobe Bryant was ‘very good’ in Lakers meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, which went ‘really well’
Jul 1, 2015, 11:26 AM EDT
Lakers feel better about this one than previous meetings with Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
Jul 1, 2015, 10:38 AM EDT
This was expected. But what happens with Dwyane Wade?
Jul 1, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
A bit of a surprise.
Jul 1, 2015, 9:54 AM EDT
Solid move by Chicago at an extremely reasonable price.
Report: Blazers, Damian Lillard nearing agreement on five-year max contract extension worth $120 million
Jul 1, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Lillard’s worth it, but Portland right now really had no choice.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Prince played better than you’d think last season, but he will turn 36 this coming year.
Jul 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Does putting Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl in close proximity to each other for an entire NBA season seem like a good idea?
Jul 1, 2015, 3:11 AM EDT
The Bucks locked him up long-term after a breakout season.
- Report: LaMarcus Aldridge rules out Lakers in free agent decision 32
- Reports: Phoenix Suns sign Tyson Chandler, re-sign Brandon Knight, try to reshape roster 6
- Kevin Love will return to Cavaliers, contract is reportedly $110 million over five years 65
- Report: Heat, Goran Dragic agree to five-year deal worth $90 million 43
- Report: Paul Millsap had midnight meeting with Orlando, will decide between Magic and Hawks 17
- Report: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs reach deal for five-year, $90 million contract extension 19