Tonight’s game between Oklahoma City and Miami means very little in regards to the standings, MVP race, and championship picture.
Tonight’s game does have the chance, however, to become the iconic game of this regular season. In fact, tonight’s game will be most memorable if LeBron James shuts down Kevin Durant, ends his 30-point streak, and puts the Thunder in their place. In an NBA season defined thus far by injuries and tanking, the league could use a wake up call kind of game from it’s signature star.
James has had nothing but praise this week for Kevin Durant, and rightfully so, as Durant is on an historic stretch of outstanding play. James has said all the right things, including that Durant “can’t be stopped by any one-on-one player.”
Special and thrilling as it’d be to watch Durant extend the streak and win in James’s arena, it’d be more fascinating to see LeBron guard Durant for most of the game and hold him to something like 19 points on 6-21 shooting while posting an impressive line of his own in a Heat victory. Imagine, James endears himself to Durant with the kind words and then steals Durant’s mojo on national television, reasserting himself as the best in the world, sending a message to anyone who forgot that even for a second.
James said two weeks ago that he’s jealous of Durant’s high number of shot attempts, and this week wished he was playing more minutes. Tonight is the night James can remind everyone that he can score 30 points at will while also guarding the opposition’s top threat and winning the game. For good measure, he could do all that while playing fewer minutes than Durant, too.
Maybe Durant truly can’t be stopped right now, even by the one player physically gifted enough to stop him. Maybe, even if the Heat win, Durant will toss up 42 points on 14-25 from the floor. In fact, that’s probably what most are expecting. Regardless, it’s one game out of 82 and nothing will be decided tonight. But that doesn’t mean James can’t give the league a reminder that until the awards change hands, he’s still the MVP and the Finals MVP.
The thing we always remember most about great sports streaks is how they end. Look at the last two great NBA winning streaks. The Rockets won 22 straight in 2008, but were stopped by a dominant Celtics team announcing its candidacy as a finals favorite. The Heat won 27 straight in 2013 but were stopped by a rugged, tenacious Bulls team playing for nothing but pride, knowing their ultimate ceiling was limited by Derrick Rose’s injury. Those were team streaks and not personal ones, but they provided memorable games on both occasions.
Durant’s streak has been the top story line in the league this year, so it’ll be a big deal no matter when it ends. Having it end against James—to whom Durant has finished runner up in MVP voting three times in the past four years—would make it an even bigger story and increase its legend in future retellings. Durant looks heroic, valiantly trying to extend his streak with James draped all over him for 40 minutes. James looks like a giant, the only man capable of containing the amazing Durant. Legacies are built in the playoffs, but this season is in need of a benchmark contest, and if James can stop Durant tonight, this would be it by a mile.
The best part about tonight’s game is that it’s a no-lose situation. There will be greatness either way. We could have Durant extending his streak and winning the game. We could have James’s play speaking for itself in the fashion of a Mutombo finger-wagging, letting Durant know he’s got to go away for now and try again in June.
Between Durant scoring 30 and winning, scoring 30 and losing, or just crapping out altogether, the different permutations of outcomes tonight are tantalizing. In a season lacking sizzle and signature games, tonight’s looms large with the potential to be the biggest yet.