Is tonight finally the night for LeBron James?

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Is tonight finally the night for LeBron James?

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James has never been here before. He's been in nearly every imaginable situation everything 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 might get done Thursday night, when the Miami Heat -- up 3-1 in this title series -- host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the finals. Even after leaving Game 4 late with a cramp, James is on the cusp of finally becoming a champ. He was swept in his first finals trip in 2007, then he and the Heat fell in the 2011 title series in six games. After countless ups and downs, the 804th game of his career may be the one that ends his title quest. "I have no idea what I'll say before we go out there," said James, who got treatment against 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 joined the Heat in 2010 after Miami convinced him that he would have enough help to win a championship -- more specifically, that he wouldn't have to carry the load by himself, like he did so many times in Cleveland over his first seven seasons. The Heat were keeping Dwyane Wade, adding Chris Bosh and filling out the roster with a mix that would be best described as unconventional. If that axiom -- more options are better -- actually needed to be proven, it was done in Game 4. James could not finish the game, though he returned after the first wave of cramps hit and delivered a key 3-pointer. With James watching the final minute, Wade and Mario Chalmers helped close out the Thunder, Miami winning 104-98 to move one win away from the franchise's second championship. "This team, I think we understand that the moment is the biggest thing," Wade said. "We're excited about the possibility of playing better, doing things better defensively, but also offensively. We don't feel like we've played our best game yet, and we feel that's still to come." The Thunder expect the same from themselves. At least, they hope that's the case. No team in finals history has successfully rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, or even forced as much as a Game 7 when presented with that scenario since the league went to its current 2-3-2 finals format in 1985. But Oklahoma City's losses in this series -- in each of the last three games -- have come by four, six and six points, respectively. A play here, a bounce there, this series might look a whole lot different. And that's why the Western Conference champions are conceding nothing. "We didn't get here just to make it here and say we did," Thunder star Kevin Durant said. "We made it to the finals. 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. That's the type of city we play for, a city that never gives up. That's the type of team we are. We're going to keep fighting, keep fighting, and we'll see what happens tomorrow." Russell Westbrook scored 43 points for the Thunder in Game 4 -- and they were for naught. It was the second time in these playoffs that someone had scored at least that many against the Heat. And like Boston's Rajon Rondo, who dropped 44 on Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, Westbrook walked off the court with a loss. "I can't really be too happy about what I (did) because we didn't win," Westbrook said. "It doesn't matter. There's probably a lot of different guys that put up so many points or so many amount of rebounds, and nobody remembers it. The only thing that people remember is if you won the championship, and that's all that matters." It might take more than leg cramps to keep James off the court for too long in Game 5. He was his usual self in practice on Wednesday, laughing with teammates while shooting a few free throws, looking at ease. And most importantly to Miami, he was moving without too much pain. James had to be carried off the court in the fourth quarter of Game 4, unable to walk to the bench. A lot of fluids and rest later, some of the bounce was back in his step on Wednesday. I feel a lot better than I did last night. That's clear," James said. "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 night." It's a 9 p.m. tipoff, actually, but the point is made. By Thursday night, James will be ready for the championship stage. And so will his team. What started on Christmas Day in Dallas, watching the Mavericks hoist the banner that will forever commemorate their championship celebration on Miami's home floor last year, could end as the perfect turnaround story for the Heat. "You've got to absolutely immerse yourself into the process and the focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's Game 5. We want to treat it as a Game 7. But we are preparing for Game 5 to protect our home court and to take care of that business. It's been well documented the experience we went through last year and the pain and all that. It doesn't guarantee anything. Experience is a great teacher. You know, hopefully all those experiences will help us." James says they've already helped him. He could not have seemed more relaxed on Wednesday. The chance he's waited nine years for comes on Thursday night, and James appeared totally comfortable in anticipation of that moment. I've experienced some things in my long but short career, and I'm able to make it better of myself throughout these playoffs and throughout this whole year, and that's on and off the court," James said. "I'm just happy that I'm able to be in this position today and be back in this stage where I can do the things that I can do to make this team proud, make this organization proud, and we'll see what happens."

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

Giants put it together in all phases, get back in win column

SAN FRANCISCO — In the bottom of the eighth inning Monday, with the Giants finally running away with one, Johnny Cueto started blowing into a giant wad of bubble gum. He held two hands out, ready to catch remnants of an explosion as Brandon Crawford and Kelby Tomlinson looked on and smiled. 

A few minutes later, players started migrating to the dugout rail as they have done in each of the three starts Ryder Jones has made. They are ready to cheer on a rookie’s first big league hit, even if the wait has been an excruciating one for the third baseman. 

Bruce Bochy likes to say that your personality is better when you’re winning, and his players certainly showed that Monday in snapshots here and there. They woke up to a report that there were fractured in the clubhouse, caused in large part by the new closer. They denied it, they met as a group, and then, finally, they won. 

Jeff Samardzija pitched as he has for two months, the top of the lineup came through over and over again, and Brandon Crawford paced a golden night with the gloves. A 9-2 win over the Rockies was just the second since June 11 and it snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rockies. Any win is meaningful at this point, but this one seemed to mean just a little bit more given the drama of the day. 

“Despite what people might think, we still have a pretty good group here and we get along just fine,” Crawford said. “We’re all rooting for each other.”

It’s one thing to support teammates off the field, and there’s been no indication that the Giants aren’t doing that. It’s quite another to be hand-in-hand between the lines, and for much of this season, Samardzija has been on an island. 

The right-hander has been Bochy’s best pitcher since Madison Bumgarner went down in the hills outside Denver. But he entered Monday with a 2-9 record and 4.74 ERA inflated by faulty defense. He hasn’t grumbled, but he has grown accustomed to the worst, and when Nolan Arenado bounced a ball deep to the hole in shortstop with two on and two outs in the third, Samardzija figured the game was probably tied. 

“I’m thinking maybe they charge it in the outfield and maybe make a play at home,” Samardzija said. “But with a guy like that at shortstop, things change so fast.”

Crawford scooped the ball on the edge of the grass. He would have liked nothing more than to make an otherworldly throw to first to nail his World Baseball Classic teammate, but he knew the best chance was at third. A couple of days ago, Crawford and Jones discussed how the rookie should cover third on such a play. Jones played it perfectly, retreating in time to catch Crawford’s inning-ending throw. 

“The best thing (about Crawford) is he doesn’t even talk about it,” Samardzija said.

No, Crawford put the spotlight on Jones.

“That’s a pretty heads-up play,” he said. “We talked about it and he was there. It was a funny coincidence.”

The play held the lead, and the Giants kept pushing. The top four hitters in the lineup finished with 10 hits, six RBI and six runs. Brandon Belt had an RBI triple in the five-spot. Crawford drove in a run behind him. Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson added insurance from the bottom. Bochy watched it all from the top step and saw a group collectively relax.

“Just quit fighting it so much,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in this offense. There’s no reason they can’t put consistent runs on the board. Tonight I just thought the at-bats were so much better and the focus was. Once it started rolling, guys felt better about themselves, and it just got contagious.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies

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AP

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' skid-snapping win over Rockies

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — On a day that started with controversy, Giants players called a meeting following batting practice. Perhaps they were talking about when and where to stretch. Perhaps a reminder was given to keep clubhouse complaints in the actual clubhouse. 

Or, perhaps, the players just decided that enough was enough. 

In a rare display, the Giants put a clean and complete game together. They beat the Rockies 9-2 at AT&T Park, getting just their second win since June 11 and snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Rockies. 

Jeff Samardzija continued his hot streak, the lineup was opportunistic and flashed some power, and the defense sparkled at times. Here are five things to know from the throwback night … 

—- Samardzija walked off to a standing ovation after throwing 112 pitches. He was charged with two earned in 6 1/3 innings. Ignore the record and ERA for a second — his FIP is 3.37 and his xFIP is 2.95. He really is having a very good and underrated season. 

—- Here’s another one for your Samardzija file: Over the past two months, he has 82 strikeouts and three walks. 

—- It was a good day in the race for another Brandon Crawford Gold Glove. Adeiny Hechavarria, one of the few in the National League who even approaches Crawford, was traded to the Rays. Crawford added to the reel by gunning a runner down on third and making a nifty spin-and-throw in the fourth to rob Ian Desmond of a hit. 

—- There are nights where Denard Span looks like a game-changer, and this was one of them. He had a single, walk and triple in his first three plate appearances, scoring twice as the Giants built a 5-0 lead. He was spry in center, too 

—- Nolan Arenado was 0 for 4. Apparently that’s legal now. (It was actually his ninth 0 for 4 or worse against the Giants, in 81 games.)

—- Bonus sixth fact since the Giants won a game: Sam Dyson, acquired basically for free, is the new setup man. That didn’t take long, and it probably won’t be changing anytime soon. Dyson gave up a single but struck out the other three batters he faced.