Thursday, January 18, 2018

Elusive championship finally within James' reach

MIAMI — LeBron James has been in nearly every imaginable situation over his nine seasons marked by three MVP awards, three trips to the NBA Finals with two teams and one decision that changed everything.

And now this: For the first time, he's one win from a championship.

"I have a job to do," James said Wednesday. "And my job is not done."

The job may get done tonight, when the Heat, up 3-1 in this title series, hosts the Thunder in Game 5. Even after leaving Game 4 late with a leg cramp, James is on the cusp of becoming a champ. James and the Cavs were swept in the 2007 Finals, then he and the Heat fell in six games in the 2011 title series.

After so many ups and downs, the 804th game of his career may end his title quest.

"I have no idea what I'll say before we go out there," said James, who got treatment again Wednesday but said soreness that followed the cramps in his left leg was easing. "It kind of just comes to me when I'm getting ready to go out there and stand on the floor. But hopefully whatever I say will inspire our guys to go out and give a good show."

James could not finish Game 4, though he returned after the first wave of cramps and delivered a key 3-pointer. With James watching the final minute, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers helped close out the Thunder 104-98. The Heat could become the third team since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985 to sweep the three games at home (2004 Pistons, 2006 Heat).

The outlook isn't as bright for the Thunder. No team in Finals history has successfully rallied from a 3-1 deficit under the 2-3-2 format. Still, Oklahoma City's losses have come by four, six and six points.

"We didn't get here just to make it here and say we did," Thunder star Kevin Durant said. "… We want to come in here, and we want to try to get a title. It's all about keep competing until that last buzzer sounds, and that's what we're going to do."

Schooled Thunder: Next time, the Thunder will know the rule. With Miami leading by three in Game 4, Oklahoma City's James Harden and Miami's Udonis Haslem grabbed a rebound simultaneously with 17.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, after Wade shot an airball.

Miami had 0.8 seconds on the shot clock, but because of the jump-ball situation, it was reset to 5 seconds.

Thunder players were apparently, were unaware of that rule, and several players thought the shot clock was turned off. That explains why Russell Westbrook fouled Chalmers after Heat forward Shane Battier sent Haslem's tip to Chalmers, looking stunned when the whistle blew. The Thunder could have forced the Heat into a quick shot with time to rebound a miss. Instead, Chalmers made two free throws for a five-point lead.

"For some odd reason …I was just thinking like it was 13 seconds left, so if they won the tip, then we were going to have to foul," Westbrook said. "But I forgot that you get 5 seconds once the jump ball occurred again."

Harden bruised but ready: Harden has a bruised left hand but is expected to play tonight. The league's sixth man of the year has shot 2-for-10 in both games in Miami, falling to 13-for-37 in the series. He is averaging 10.8 points, six points below his season average. "It's definitely frustrating when those shots get open and don't go in, but you've got to continue to play," he said.

Around the league

Hornets-Wizards trade: New Orleans traded forward Trevor Ariza and center Emeka Okafor to Washington for forward Rashard Lewis and a second-round draft pick (46th overall). Lewis is entering the last season of a six-year, $118 million deal and could be a candidate for the amnesty clause, meaning the Hornets may choose to cut him to clear cap space.

Obituary: Former NBA (Lakers, Hawks) and ABA (Pittsburgh, Kentucky) player Dennis Hamilton died Monday, according to Arizona State, his alma mater. He was 68.

Magic hires Thunder executive, 30, as GM

ORLANDO — The Magic and Rob Hennigan reached an agreement in principle Wednesday that will make the Thunder executive the youngest general manager in the league.

Hennigan, 30, spent the past four seasons in Oklahoma City, including the past two as the assistant GM/player personnel overseeing the scouting departments. Before the Thunder, he spent four seasons with the Spurs.

"He's got experience working for championship organizations beyond his years, and from my perspective, this is his time," Magic CEO Alex Martins, who chose Hennigan over former Hornets GM Jeff Bower and Spurs assistant GM Dennis Lindsey, told the Orlando Sentinel. Martins expects the deal to be finalized and Hennigan introduced by this afternoon.

He replaces Otis Smith and will lead a search for a coach to replace the fired Stan Van Gundy. Hennigan also will try to sell star center Dwight Howard, who is said to want a trade, on the future of the franchise.

The draft is June 28, and the Magic owns the 19th and 49th overall picks.

Orlando Sentinel, Times wires


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