Luhm: Thunder’s Durant will edge James for MVP
Published: April 12, 2014 03:51PM
Updated: April 12, 2014 10:05PM
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Steve Luhm

Kevin Durant is going to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2014.

Even LeBron James thinks so.

James scored 37 points against Memphis last week but, after another Miami loss, he seemed to endorse Durant.

“I would say he’s the most consistent basketball player as far as the MVP this year,” James said. “He’s put up some great numbers.”

Indeed.

Durant averages 31.9 points a game, heading into the final three games of the regular season. He scored at least 25 points in 41 straight games — a phenomenal streak snapped Tuesday night in Sacramento, where he had 23.

Beyond his individual numbers, Durant has carried Oklahoma City to the second-best record (58-21) in the Western Conference.

If San Antonio had finally acted its age, the Thunder would be staring at home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Amazingly, they’ve done it with All-Star Russell Westbrook playing only half a season because of injuries.

Jazz fans probably remember the start of 1997-1998.

John Stockton went to training camp, where the most serious injury of his career was diagnosed. He underwent microfracture surgery and missed two months, including the first 18 games of the regular season.

The Karl Malone-led Jazz went went 11-7 without Stockton, which everybody thought was commendable, given the circumstances.

So consider:

Durant’s sidekick, Westbrook, will end up missing at least 38 games. Still, the Thunder have already clinched the second-best record in the rugged West.

Better than Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the L.A. Clippers.

Better than James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets.

Better than Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the surprising Portland Trail Blazers.

It is a testament to Durant that Oklahoma City heads into the playoffs with a legitimate chance to win a championship. It’s also the reason LeBron won’t win his fifth MVP trophy eight months before his 30th birthday. Nor will Durant finish second to LeBron in the MVP voting for the third time in the careers.

“I think KD has had one heck of a season,” James told reporters in Memphis. “And, you know, if he’s rewarded with the MVP, it would be great. It would be awesome for him, for his family. He’s played MVP-type basketball.”

James’ individual numbers, of course, again scream, “MVP.”

He averages 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He shoots 56.9 percent from the field and nobody will argue if he is named the Defensive Player of the Year.

Much like Michael Jordan, it seems, James has become a perennial MVP candidate until he retires.

It will be a surprise when he doesn’t win.

Like this year.

Beyond Durant’s amazing season, James’ chance in the MVP voting has been compromised by the lack of competitiveness in the Eastern Conference.

In the West, five teams entered play Saturday night with at least 52 wins. One team — Dallas, Memphis or Phoenix — will likely win 48 games and fail to reach the playoffs. In the East, only two teams have won more than 47 games and, with five days left in the season, only five clinched a winning record.

The obvious conclusion?

Durant put up his numbers against more quality opponents and more difficult competition than LeBron.

He deserves the MVP award he’s about to receive.

Three-pointers

Best ever? • Golden State coach Mark Jackson calls Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson the best shooting backcourt in NBA history. I’m not sure that’s true, but they did torch the Jazz for 64 points last week. “Those guys are special,” Jackson said. “Steph is obviously a superstar basketball player that has put together an incredible year. Klay continues to develop with his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the paint area and play out the pick-and-rolls. He’s a nightmare to try and defend and the league will have to deal with him.”

Status quo • Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is not a proponent of shortening the season from 82 games, as some concerned with player injuries have suggested. “I love it. I grew up in it,” Corbin said. “I never thought it was too long. I enjoy playing basketball. It’s what I do. It’s a grind. I’m not saying it’s easy. But it is what it is. That’s what makes the NBA what it is. You have 82 games and travel a lot, you have different opponents ... and you have four games in five nights. Now, who’s tough enough to fight their way through it?”

Sixth man • Now 37, Vince Carter has been a key to Dallas’ pursuit of a playoff berth. He averages 12 points in 24 minutes a game for the Mavs. Asked about Carter’s Sixth Man Award chances, coach Rick Carlisle said: “Winning matters and, when you can have a winning record, it helps for things like sixth man and other award-type things. But look. I think he wants to get into the playoffs. The sixth man is something that’s probably secondary to him, although he takes pride in the job and the commitment to it.”

Steve Luhm