Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Only one victory stands in the way of the Miami Heat and a NBA Championship. For NBA MVP LeBron James, he’s put last year’s bad performance behind him and is ready to carry the Heat to the title in Game 5.
LeBron has repeatedly apologized for his poor performance in the 2011 NBA Finals, going so far as to call himself immature for the way he treated the fans and the media after last year’s finals. In the 2012 Finals, the world has seen a completely new LeBron.
He’s changed his game to include posting-up Thunder players throughout the Finals. This has the ability to get himself some easy scores if the Thunder lay off of him; get his teammates easy scores if the Thunder double-teams him; or send him to the free throw line if the Thunder fouls him.
Still, LeBron is not letting the possibility of winning a championship enter on his home court enter into his mind.
“As crazy as it sounds, I haven’t got caught up in it,” James said Wednesday. “I won’t get there until those zeroes hit and I see that we won.”
In the 2012 NBA playoffs and Finals, LeBron has been nothing short of spectacular. So far in the playoffs, LeBron has averaged 30.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. LeBron has also shot 50 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free throw line thus far in the playoffs overall.
Breaking it down to just the NBA Finals, LeBron is averaging 29.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. He’s shooting 81 percent from the free throw line and 47 percent from the field overall, making his case for Finals MVP.
“I’m the leader of this team, and I’m not comfortable right now,” James said. “I’m comfortable in my game, but I’m not going to be comfortable until we seal this thing.”
James has known the series would be focused on the matchup between himself and Kevin Durant, but for LeBron, it’s much more than just that.
“You know, everyone was excited to finally get an opportunity to see two of the best players go head to head, myself and KD, but for me personally, it’s not a head-to-head battle,” James said. “When I go out on the floor, I do want to dominate the guy in front of me, but this is a team game, and I have all the trust in my teammates, and I try to do everything that needs to be done individually to help our team win.”
James has given everything he could to the Heat and more this season. He’s the league MVP and likely Finals MVP if Miami wins; but when he was carried off the court late in Game 4, things looked bleak for Miami.
Then James came back into the game, barely able to get up and down the court, and calmly sank a 3-point shot to put the Heat ahead for good. He was then taken back to the bench to watch the final moments as his teammates won Game 4.
For his part, LeBron said there’s nothing to worry about with his health.
“I feel a lot better than I did last night. That’s clear,” James said Wednesday. “I’m still a little (sore) because of the muscles just kind of being at an intense level, very tight. I’m still sore. I was able to get some treatment last night. I was able to get some treatment this morning. … And also with the game being basically at midnight tomorrow night, I have all day tomorrow, too, to prepare. I should be fine by tomorrow (Thursday) night.”
While much of the pressure will be on Oklahoma City Thursday night, the Heat knows that this is a must-win game for the team. Sending a series back to Oklahoma City makes the task of winning just one game that much more difficult.
“Game 5 is a Game 7 for us, you know, and it’s a must-win for them,” James said. “But it’s a must win for us, too, and as a leader of this team, I’ll approach it that way, and hopefully I won’t have to be dealing with cramps tomorrow (Thursday) night.”
LeBron has fought since the age of 18 to get to the moment he walks into Thursday night in Game 5 at the AmericanAirlines Arena. With one victory, he can silence the critics who have said he is great, but not a superstar because he doesn’t have a ring.
The same argument was made against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for years. It took a victory in the Super Bowl to end the criticism and elevate him to one of the greatest of all-time.
LeBron is a first-ballot Hall of Famer already, but he, nor his critics, will be satisfied until he has a championship ring.
It could all happen Thursday night in Miami.
Game 5 of the NBA Finals tips off at 9:00 p.m. at the AmericanAirlines Arena.