Kevin Durant's recent scoring barrage has moved him front and center in the race for the NBA's most valuable player award. On Wednesday Durant will come face-to-face with the greatest challenge to his MVP quest as he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder into Miami to face LeBron James and the powerhouse Heat. Durant has scored 30 or more points in 11 straight games, the main catalyst behind the Thunder's eight-game winning streak.
Durant is on the fast track to his fourth NBA scoring title, but faces one of his toughest assignments of the year - tasked with scoring on, and defending, the four-time league MVP and two-time defending NBA champion. James' numbers have taken a tumble in recent years, but he remains the most productive player on a team that sits second in the Eastern Conference. James will have help, too, as Dwyane Wade returns to the starting lineup.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN, FSN Oklahoma (Oklahoma City), Sun Sports (Miami)
ABOUT THE THUNDER (36-10): Durant isn't just shooting his way to superstardom - he's thinking his way around defensive schemes designed to shut him down. Durant hit the game-winning shot in Monday's narrow victory over the Atlanta Hawks, and said afterward that he was successful because he had seen the game-ending defensive setup before. "This is the third team we played that's been under that San Antonio umbrella," he said of the Hawks' approach. "They brought that (double-team). And they were bold enough to do it in the fourth quarter."
ABOUT THE HEAT (32-12): Wade was given the green light to join the starting five after coming off the bench in Sunday's one-sided win over the San Antonio Spurs. Wade, who scored eight points in 24 minutes in a reserve role, relishes the challenge of facing the team with the best record in the West. "I asked (head coach Eric Spoelstra) to take me out as a starter that one game, but I didn't ask him to do it the whole year," Wade told reporters Monday. "So we can stop that conversation."
1. The teams haven't met since last Feb. 14, when James (39 points) got the better of Durant (40) in a 110-100 Miami victory.
2. Durant averages 29.3 points in 12 career games against the Heat.
3. Miami is an Eastern Conference-best 12-2 against West foes.
PREDICTION: Heat 108, Thunder 103