Trying to determine who is worth more to his team — LeBron James or Kevin Durant — is a fool’s errand.
There’s no wrong answer, which, of course, means there’s no correct one.
Removing James from the Heat roster would reduce Miami from an excellent team to merely a good one; removing Durant from the Thunder roster would diminish Oklahoma City in the same manner.
But the debate about who’s more valuable got front-burner treatment in the run-up to Wednesday night’s meeting in AmericanAirlines Arena in which Durant scored 33 points as the Thunder swept to a 112-95 rout.
James is a better defender, rebounder and passer than Durant, who is a better shooter/scorer than James.
James has won four Most Valuable Player awards (all in the past five years) and has led the Heat to its current standing as two-time defending champions. Durant hasn’t won an MVP prize nor has Oklahoma City won a title — it was a Finals loser to Miami in 2012 — but his astonishing work this season in the prolonged absence of teammate Russell Westbrook has been sensational enough to spur speculation that he’d win the vote for top individual honor were it conducted right now.
Ready, set … argue.
James is the more complete player, and therefore the better one.
But, no, that doesn’t mean he’s more valuable to the Heat than Durant is to the Thunder, who have remained atop the West standings without Westbrook’s presence. That speaks volumes as to Durant’s value, but he declined to get caught up in comparisons to James in that regard.
“You guys make it like it’s Frazier-Ali,” Durant said before the game. “If he wants to play one-on-one, I’ll do it in the summer. When I go to the gym to work on my game, I don’t have his picture up or anything.”
Durant now has scored at least 30 points in a dozen consecutive games, and the Thunder is on a nine-game winning streak.
“Video-game numbers,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Durant’s recent production. “There isn’t a part of the game that he doesn’t excel.”
Durant, though, is such a scoring savant that his improved all-around game frequently goes unnoticed.
“He’s so good offensively that he doesn’t get enough credit (otherwise),” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He doesn’t get enough recognition for how tough he is. We could talk for hours about what he brings.”
James, who scored 34 points in defeat, said Durant’s extraordinary talent is a “driving force” for him to improve his own game, but to a limit.
“My motivation runs deep beyond my competition,” James said. “The scoring tear he’s on is good to see. It’s not surprising.”
James professed before tipoff not to care if the Heat broke Durant’s scoring binge.
“We want to be the team that wins,” James said.
That didn’t happen, either.
Durant started slowly, and so did Oklahoma City. He had no points and had been called for a charge as Miami ripped away to a 22-4 lead, but anyone who expected Durant to remain quiet, or anything close to it, was ridiculously off-kilter.
“We didn’t panic,” Durant said.
That’s an understatement.
Durant had 16 points at halftime, by which time the Thunder had forged a 55-50 edge.
“He has a full tool kit at his disposal,” Spoelstra said.
The hammer was Durant’s most effective instrument. And as he pounded away, so did the Thunder in following Durant’s confident posture. It wasn’t that he was breathtakingly terrific, but he was stunningly sure of himself even against the defensive attention he drew from James most of the time.
“He’s really matured a lot,” Brooks said.
Oklahoma City’s advantage sprouted to 91-75 after the third quarter as Durant scored 12 points in warming to the task. The night’s highlight was when James and Durant exchanged a series of field goals late in the period.
“It was fun,” Durant said. “We talked some slick stuff, but that stays on the court.”
He obviously was undisturbed by his sluggish start or by picking up two first-quarter fouls.
And his teammates took the cue in digging out from the early big deficit to bury the Heat.
There’s a school of thought that if James doesn’t win a fifth MVP this year, it would be because voters were tired of casting ballots for him and that he’ll get plenty of the recognitions down the road. No sale. Such reasoning would be a shameful denigration of Durant in an unfair judgment of his remarkable skills.
He deserves a more genuine appreciation, and just proved it.