HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – On Feb. 14, 2013, in a game the Heat controlled by 10 points on the Thunder’s home court with only about a minute left, LeBron James, standing several feet beyond the top of the 3-point arc, heaved a rainbow as the shot clock ticked under five seconds.
Amazingly, it didn’t find a pot of gold. And with that, James’ blistering six-game run of scoring at least 30 points on 60 percent shooting came to an end. The super-rare streak didn’t have to, if only James hadn’t of flicked that unnecessary 3. His line went from 39 points on 14-for-23 shooting (60.1 percent) to 14-for-24 (58.3 percent).
Afterward James really didn’t care. The Heat had prevailed, notching victory No. 7 of an eventual 27 in a row. The start of Miami’s winning streak, on the heels of a 6-5 stretch, coincided with the start of his run of ultra-efficiency. James went on to earn his fourth of five consecutive Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards (April was the lone month he did not win it), then the MVP and finally the championship and Finals MVP.
Meanwhile, on that Miami-dominated night in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant, the league’s scoring leader and in hot pursuit of the rare 50-40-90 line of shooting accuracy, was again overshadowed by LeBron’s brilliance. The Thunder as a whole were left to ponder the buzz saw that had just sliced them up and spit them out.
Nearly a year later, similarities abound, only in reverse.
On Wednesday night in Miami, Durant waltzed in with a monster scoring streak of 11 consecutive games of 30 points or more. He was averaging 38.0 ppg and shooting 56.3 percent during the stretch, and 61.4 percent in the previous six games.
It hasn’t been mentioned much, if at all, but Durant nearly pulled off James’ near-impossible string of 30-points and 60-percent in those six games, failing only to notch 60 percent once. He settled for 54.4 percent in the fourth game of the six.
But like James, those streaks are mostly inconsequential to Durant. Had he scored 29 points Wednesday and ended his 30-point run instead of taking it to a dozen in a row with a 33-point effort on 52.2-percent shooting, Durant wouldn’t have much minded. Because the Thunder, still playing without Russell Westbrook, blew by the bewildered Heat, 112-95. It was OKC’s ninth consecutive victory following a stretch of 6-6.
As James did to him all of last season, Durant’s nightly feats (he’s averaging 31.3 ppg on 51.0-percent shooting, 7.8 rpg and 5.2 apg) make it difficult to focus on the two-time reigning MVP’s astonishing stat line of 26.2 ppg on 58.0-percent shooting, 6.8 rpg and 6.4 apg.
Following James’ script, Durant has won the Western Conference’s first two Player of the Month awards, and considering he’s averaging 36.6 ppg (on 53.9 percent shooting), 6.0 rpg and 6.3 apg in January, a third in a row is locked up.
Entering Friday’s game at Brooklyn, which handed OKC (37-10) a stunning loss on Jan. 2, the Thunder boasts a 3.5- game lead in the West. They’ve surged just as Portland has cooled and San Antonio has endured multiple injuries.
Eight games remain before the All-Star break: at Brooklyn, at Washington, vs. Memphis, vs. Minnesota, at Orlando, vs. New York, at Portland and at the Los Angeles Lakers. It is possible that the three-time All-Star Westbrook, out since Dec. 26 due to a third right knee surgery, could return at some point during this string of games.
Or perhaps he will rejoin Durant and his streaking team immediately after the All-Star break on Feb. 20 when LeBron and the Heat again come calling on the Thunder’s home court.
Things can change quickly in the NBA, but more than halfway through the season, Durant and the Thunder appear to be following a familiar path.