NEW ORLEANS — With the first pick in the 2014 NBA All-Star fantasy draft ...
"I’d go with LeBron," Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan said.
"I’ll take KD," said Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving.
That’s how close it is right now between LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
They are the very best of the NBA’s best, both so talented that even guys who play against them every night have trouble deciding which one they think is better.
"I think it’s almost a situation where you have 1A and 1B, because both give you so many different things out on the court," Minnesota’s Kevin Love said.
"1A, 1B," agreed Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, who were knocked out of the playoffs by Durant two years ago and James last year.
"As journalists you’re always going to try to choose, but me as a basketball player and playing against them, they’re both great."
James was the MVP of the game in 2008, the last time the NBA’s All-Star weekend came to New Orleans. These days, he’s the MVP of most seasons, winning four of the last five awards. But King James might be giving up the throne this time, with multiple players believing Durant will emerge with his first MVP award this season.
"I think it’s ultimately going to be KD and LeBron, and KD’s team is No. 1 in the West right now," Portland’s Damian Lillard said. "He’s getting 40 every night and flirting with a triple-double, so I think if they had to pick an MVP right now it would be KD."
But MVP is decided by a media panel. Nobody voting for that ever shares the floor with James or Durant. What about somebody like Carmelo Anthony, who plays the same position, is sandwiched between them at No. 2 in the scoring race, and has teamed with both on the U.S. Olympic team?
"As far as Durant, he’s a hell of a scorer, great scorer, gets better every year in all facets of his game. Never seen somebody his height shoot the ball the way he’s capable of shooting the ball," Anthony said.
"Then you look on the flip side with LeBron, you have somebody who’s so powerful, so athletic, can do so many things, can change a game in so many different ways throughout the course of a game. So going up against those two guys, it’s a totally different mindset, game plan, focus that you have to have because it’s coming at you from a lot of different ways."
James has been considered the game’s best player for a while now, having moved past Kobe Bryant. Durant was the sensational scorer — he’s on his way to a fourth scoring title in five years — but without the full array of skills that James possessed.
But even with his 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, James isn’t the only guy filling up every stat category. Besides his 31.5 points per game, Durant is also averaging 7.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
Love said James is like "Old Faithful," because "you know what he’s going to give you," and added that "at this point it’s going to be very tough to pass him" as the best player in the world.
But he seems in the Durant category when it comes to the MVP ballot.
"I have to say with what Kevin Durant is doing at this point, it’s pretty unbelievable," he said. "Scoring the ball at such a high clip, and then you look at the stat sheet and he’s filling it up in other categories as well. His team is winning, and LeBron is having a great year, but it just seems like what KD has done has been pretty unbelievable."
James caused a stir this week when he said he believed he’d go down as one of the top four players in history during an interview with NBA TV that will air Monday. Yet even as he looks toward his place in the future, he seems aware his status at the present could be in jeopardy.
"LeBron for a few years has known Kevin Durant has been coming as a player," said Dwyane Wade, James’ teammate in Miami.
"He wants to be the best, one of the greatest of all-time and he knows that this young guy is coming and he’s trying to protect his turf."
Durant sent a loud statement when the Thunder routed the Heat in Miami during his incredible scoring run of 12 straight games with 30 or more points. He scores so easily that even other guys who can fill it up are in awe, and Irving said he’d pick Durant at No. 1 in part because of what Durant could do for his own stats.
"It’s an easy assist," Irving said. "Going up the floor, he’s shooting from everywhere now. So you just throw him the ball. He’s on fire."
But everyone already knew Durant could score. It’s the way he has added to his game while leading Oklahoma City to the league’s best record even without the injured Russell Westbrook that has put him in the discussion with James.
James has two straight NBA titles, beating Durant in the first one, and that might be the tiebreaker over the ringless Durant. And it appears now a tiebreaker may indeed be necessary.
"There’s not one you can really just put over the other right now at this moment. It’s a tight race," Atlanta’s Paul Millsap said. "It all depends on what you’re looking for, to be honest with you."
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