In a showdown for the ages, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are locked in a tight battle for the scoring title race as the regular season heads into the home stretch. With Anthony (28.44 PPG) marginally ahead of Durant (28.35 PPG) after New York’s impressive 125-120 win against the Thunder on Sunday in Oklahoma City, this is shaping up to be a fight to the finish -- a true classic in the making -- with the title potentially being decided when both team play their respective last regular season games on April 17.
A slice of NBA history
The NBA’s scoring title has often been decided at the very end. Just last season, Kevin Durant edged out Kobe Bryant 28.0 PPG to 27.9 PPG after Bryant didn’t play the last game of the season against the Sacramento Kings. Fourteen seasons ago, in 1998-99, when the league’s regular season was cut-short to a 50-game schedule due to a lockout, the scoring race came down to the final day, with Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal competing against each other. Iverson eventually claimed the title when he poured in 33 points against the Detroit Pistons to finish at 26.75 PPG while O’Neal, who was held to 18 points by Portland in his final game, finished at 26.31 PPG.
O’Neal in fact could well write a bestseller on scoring title races since he finished second-best on more than one occasion. In 1997-98, the Los Angeles Lakers’ center finished behind Michael Jordan, whose 44-point heroics against the Knicks in Chicago’s final game gave him his 10th and final scoring title at 28.74 PPG to O’ Neal’s 28.32 PPG. Before that, in 1993-94, in another last day finish, David ‘The Admiral’ Robinson, of the San Antonio Spurs, hit a career- and franchise-high 71 points (26-of-41 in 44 minutes) against the Los Angeles Clippers to finish his season with 29.79 PPG. O’Neal, meanwhile, ended with 29.35 PPG as he could manage only 32 points against the New Jersey Nets in Orlando’s season finale.
The tightest scoring title race – ‘Iceman’ Gervin versus ‘Skywalker’ Thompson
Exactly 25 years ago, on April 9, 1978, on the last day of the 1977-78 NBA regular season, two future Hall of Famers found themselves locked in what has become the closest scoring race in NBA history. San Antonio’s George Gervin had taken a league-leading 26.8 PPG average heading into the last day of the season, with Denver’s David Thompson second at 26.6 PPG.
But on that final afternoon, Thompson scored 73 points against the Detroit Pistons, going a stunning 28-for-38 from the field and 17-for-20 from the line, which pushed his scoring average to 27.15. Thompson’s display left Gervin requiring at least 58 points against the Jazz if he wanted to wear the scoring crown. Being fed the ball on just about every play by his teammates, Gervin tallied 63 points on 23-for-49 shooting from the field while playing 33 minutes to Thompson’s 43. The ‘Iceman’, as Gervin was known, finished with an average of 27.22 to Thompson’s 27.15 in the closest scoring race in NBA history.
Durantula versus ’Melo
Tuning into the current head-to-head battle between the league’s foremost scorers, Durant claims he is rooting for Anthony to win his first title. “He can have it,” Durant said about the scoring title before Sunday’s head-to-head game against the Knicks and Anthony. But make no mistake, there is plenty for both men to play for.
No player has won four consecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan won seven in a row from 1986-93. Durant, accordingly, would be the first player to do so if he edges Anthony. Meanwhile, ’Melo, for all the amazing scoring games he has put together over his 10-year career, has never won the league scoring title. And Melo’s form in recent weeks proves that he is determined to correct that anomaly. Where Durant’s scoring average has dipped to 26.3 PPG in February and March after the OKC star averaged 31.3 PPG over 29 games in December and January, ’Melo has been on a tear, averaging 41.8 PPG in his last four games. The Knicks forward dropped a season high 50 points in a win against Miami at the beginning of April before hitting 40, 41 and 36 points in three wins for the Knicks against Atlanta, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.
But Durant has certainly been the more efficient scorer than Anthony. While the Knicks star is averaging 44.8 percent, 38.1 percent and 83.1 percent shooting from the field, 3-point and free-throw line, Durant is well on course to join the exclusive 50-40-90 club — 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the arc (Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the only to do this). Durant could consequently end up achieving a most enviable double-double if he gets the scoring title to go with his place in the club.
As you see, this could be a showdown for the ages.
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