Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Wednesday night was slated to be a battle of NBA Most Valuable Player candidates at the AmericanAirlines Arena as Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder battled LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
For one night, the game lived up to every bit of the hype.
The Heat won the back-and-forth game by a 98-93 margin, but LeBron showed that he was still the man to beat in the MVP race this season. LeBron finished with 34 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and four steals in the game. Durant scored 30, but had a career-worst nine turnovers.
LeBron seemed to be kicked into another gear in the game after a hard foul on a breakaway layup attempt by Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. LeBron went tumbling to the ground and bounced up looking like he could take Westbrook’s head off. Instead, he used it to fuel his fire against the Thunder.
“Every night I go out on the court, I try to play like the MVP for our team,” James said. “I’ve always said that…it doesn’t matter to me. For us, we got better tonight as a team. And I was the MVP for our team and just trying to lead those guys, lead us to a victory. That’s what it’s all about.”
James has been banged up as of late and the very physical game Wednesday night was no exception. James twisted his ankle falling over a videographer, grabbed his back after colliding with a referee, and was still dealing with his dislocated left ring finger.
The Heat played team defense throughout the game with LeBron shutting down Kevin Durant several times throughout the game, especially late in the fourth quarter.
“I think he’s the best two-way player in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. “He does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. We’ve talked about him playing like a defensive player of the year, to defend all five positions, while at the same time playing four positions offensively.”
Heat teammate Udonis Haslem said he saw plenty Wednesday to prove that LeBron should be voted the Most Valuable Player in the league this season.
“Two MVP candidates, you have to want that matchup,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “LeBron accepted the challenge and that’s what we expect him to do as our leader and our MVP candidate. You have to step up to the plate and that’s what he did.”
For the season, LeBron is shooting 54 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line. He’s averaging 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game while not missing a single game for injury this season and playing nearly 40 minutes per night.
James is scoring just .06 points less than Durant for the season, but dishes out three more assists and gets nearly .05 more steals per game while shooting four percent better from the field. Durant does shoot free throws better than LeBron on average, but Durant’s defense isn’t in the same league as LeBron’s.
The Heat and James have 13 games left this season with the majority of those games coming at home. James is not one to take time off, but resting him may be the best plan in the last week or so of the regular season.
The Heat has just about locked up the two seed in the Eastern Conference and once that is set, Spoelstra may rest James and Wade for the playoff push. But LeBron is making his games count in April and could seal up the MVP award with a big game against Boston and Chicago in the coming week.