LeBron and Durant in 2-man race for MVP

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LeBron James and Kevin Durant are on pace to finish 1-2 in the MVP voting again this season.As we approach the halfway point of the NBA season, two of the game’s best players continue to make their mark as the top two MVP candidates this season. LeBron James and Kevin Durant, each who have led their teams to the best record in their respective conferences, have grabbed headlines with recent road performances.

On Thursday night, James dominated the Los Angeles Lakers, recording a season-high 39 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals in a Heat victory. He’s just the fourth player since 1988 to reach those totals against the Lakers in a single game.

Durant responded Friday night in a win against the Dallas Mavericks with a career-high 52 points, including a perfect 21-for-21 from the free throw line. In NBA history, only Dominique Wilkins made more free throws in a single game without a miss (23).

Highest player efficiency rating this season

Aside from their recent single-game performances, both are statistically separating themselves from their peers. James (30.2) and Durant (29.1) rank one-two in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), a metric created by John Hollinger to measure the overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production (league average is 15.0 every season).

James (8.7) and Durant (10.0) are also first and second in win shares, a metric by Basketball Reference which estimates the number of wins contributed by a player.

Most win shares this season

Although each player ranks near the top in the major advanced statistical categories, it’s their shooting that has been the primary contributor to their dominance this season.

James -- fourth in the NBA at 26.3 points per game -- is shooting a career-high 55 percent from the field and a career-high 40 percent from 3-point range. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James would be the first player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, and shoot at least 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range among players who qualify for the title in each category.

Durant -- second in the league at 29.3 PPG -- is also on a historical pace shooting the ball. The three-time defending scoring champ is shooting a career-high 52 percent from the field, 41 percent from beyond the arc, and a career-high 90.6 percent from the free throw line.

According to Elias, Larry Bird in the 1987-88 season is the only player in NBA history to average at least 29 points, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, shoot 40 percent from 3-point range and shoot 90 percent from the free throw line in a single season (29.9 PPG, 52.7 shooting percentage, 41.4 3-point shooting percentage, 91.6 free throw shooting percentage).

James and Durant finished well ahead of the rest of the field in MVP voting last season, an award won by James. With their current statistical paces, and the success of their teams so far this season, the NBA’s top single-season honor is once again likely to come down to these two superstars.

The graphic below plots every NBA player this season (minimum five games) by minutes per game (X axis) and player efficiency rating (PER) (Y axis). James and Durant tower above the rest of the league.

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-- Will Cohen contributed to the visual