by Marcel Mutoni @marcel_mutoni

The 2012 NBA MVP debate was more or less settled last night in Miami.

The two leading candidates, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, showed up to make their respective cases, in what had suddenly turned into a tight race for the game’s highest individual honor.

After last night, you’d be hard-pressed to give the award to anyone but LBJ this season.

James led the Miami Heat to a tough, physical win over the visiting OKC Thunder, posting a typically absurd line: 34 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds. LeBron also played tremendous defense on numerous players (including Durant, who despite his own solid performance, coughed up the rock 9 times) , and nailed several big shots down the stretch to ensure the victory.

The AP has the postgame quotes:

“Every night I go out on the court, I try to play like the MVP for our team,” James told the reporters surrounding his locker after the game. “I’ve always said that. … It doesn’t matter to me. For us, we got better tonight as a team. And I was the MVP for our team and just trying to lead those guys, lead us to a victory. That’s what it’s all about.”

“I think he’s the best two-way player in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He does it in a night-in, night-out basis and he does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. But the fact remains: He must play at an MVP level at both ends of the court for us. We’ve talked about him playing like a defensive player of the year, to defend all five positions, while at the same time playing four positions offensively.”

Last night’s Heat/Thunder matchup was of the more relentlessly competitive games of the season.

One gets the feeling that most NBA fans wouldn’t mind seeing these two squads meet again in June, where LeBron James and Kevin Durant would battle for an even more important MVP award.