We all have seen Clash of the Titans in sports throughout history. There was the battle between Muhammad Ali vs. Walt Frazier that raised the boxing world to new heights. Reggie Bush and the USC Trojans vs. Vince Young and the Texans Longhorns in arguably the most coveted college football game in NCAA history was another. Matchups like these are what makes sports so special as we watch some of the top athletes in their respective sports duel for the crown and the title of “Best of the World.”
In the NBA we have seen a similar battle between two of the best players of our generation in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. These guys have been going at each other for years, meeting up four times in the NBA Finals and splitting at an even 2-2 in those matchups. The rivalry has grown over the years and although the teams they play for are different from years past, the title for “Best Player in the NBA” remains a constant tug-of-war between these two.
This week these two put on a show in their own respective ways as they continue to trade blows with each game. Both had performances that could not go unnoticed. That is why my Conference Players of the Week for this week are Kevin Durant from the Eastern Conference and LeBron James from the Western Conference.
For Kevin Durant, this season has a lot riding on it in terms of his legacy. He is coming off of a torn Achilles injury which most consider being the worst injury in professional sports. After being a part of a Golden State Warriors organization with a pre-established championship culture and a litany of commended talent, this is the first official season with the Brooklyn Nets who are more of a franchise on the rise. Now the whereabouts of Kyrie Irving is unknown, and Brooklyn has just acquired another All-Star talent in James Harden who they have to work into the team chemistry. Yet through all the pressure and uncertainty of the season, Durant has found a way to actually rise substantially above expectations.
After missing three straight games, Durant came back this week like a man on a mission. 36 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday entering the week against his former team in the Oklahoma City Thunder. A near triple-double performance with 34 points, nine rebounds, and 13 assists against the Denver Nuggets where he actually moved up four spots to 28th on the all-time scoring list. Then follows that up with a combined 66 points, seven rebounds, and 11 assists in the last two games against the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. The Brooklyn Nets went 3-0 this week on the back of KD without Irving who is out indefinitely for personal reasons.
Even after a devastating injury, the man looks like the same old bucket getter we have grown to love (or hate) over the years. The two-time Finals MVP is averaging 30.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in the ten games he has played this season. Did I mention that the man is even averaging a steal and a block a game? The athleticism is definitely there, and it looks like his injury has been the least of his worries so far this season. Durant is reminding the NBA World that he is a force to be reckoned with in this league and is a prime reason that Brooklyn is in the conversation as a legit title contender this season.
The King is currently wearing the crown. When you ask most basketball fans who the best player in the league right now is, the consensus answer is typically one name: LeBron James. And for good reason. He is coming off of his fourth NBA title in which he won Finals MVP in his 17th season. He averaged nearly a triple-double and has been a dominant force in this league for over a decade. Yet somehow even with the bar set so high, he continues to play at a high level despite getting up in age.
At age 36, James is averaging 24.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 7.7 assists a game while playing in all 14 games so far this season. This week he played out of his mind by putting on an offensive clinic: 73 points, 22 rebounds, and 23 assists in three games. He also hit the shot of the week with the no-look three-pointer that won him $100 from teammate Dennis Schroeder and may have been the shot that sent James Harden to the East.
But in all seriousness, LeBron James looks like he is in a bit of a comfort zone this season coming off title victory, and the defending champs look good as they sit atop the West with a record of 11-3 while winning nine of their last ten. The Los Angeles Lakers are favored by oddsmakers to successfully defend their title and become back-to-back champs and that has a lot to do with LeBron James who has not missed a beat in Year 18.