Is tonight finally the night for LeBron James?

507942.jpg

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."

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Throughout much of his dominant 2016-17 season, the words “Norris Trophy lock” have often preceded Brent Burns’ name. 

The 32-year-old has led all NHL blueliners in scoring for the past three months, building upon a strong second half last season in which he helped lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, and solidifying himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.

In 76 games, Burns has 28 goals – 11 more than any other defenseman – and 45 assists for 73 points and a plus-17 rating. At one point on Feb. 19, he had 14 more points than Erik Karlsson, who was second among NHL defensemen.

But Burns went cold earlier this month. During one stretch, he went nine out of 10 games without finding the scoresheet, and finally snapped a 16-game goal drought with an overtime winner on Tuesday against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Karlsson has been heating up. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2015, the Senators defenseman has 13 points in his last 14 games. As of Wednesday morning, Karlsson was just five points behind Burns in scoring, with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points and a plus-seven rating.

There’s talk Karlsson could take home a third Norris, snatching it out of Burns’ grasp.

But, probably not.

In an anonymous poll among 21 PHWA members, most of whom get a vote for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, Burns’ designation as the frontrunner seems fairly safe with just six games to go in the regular season.

Of the writers polled, including a broad swath from across North America, 14 told CSN they would likely vote for Burns as the league’s best defensemen if the season ended Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Three were leaning towards Burns, while only four said they would give it to Karlsson.

One writer polled had Burns first, Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman second, and Karlsson third.

Of course, 21 votes is just a small sample size of the PHWA membership. Last season, 183 writers took part in voting for the Norris, according to the final tally. Burns finished third in voting, well behind winner Drew Doughty, while Karlsson was second.

Still, as long as Burns stays in front of Karlsson in the scoring race, it appears he remains in line to become the first Sharks defenseman ever to earn a Norris Trophy.

Vin Scully on Dodgers Opening Day: ‘I’ll probably have things to do’

Vin Scully on Dodgers Opening Day: ‘I’ll probably have things to do’

WASHINGTON -- On Monday, the Dodgers will play their first opening day since 1950 without Vin Scully calling their games. He won't be in the stands. He won't make a point of watching on TV, either.

"It's a day game. I'll probably have things to do," the famed 89-year-old announcer told The Associated Press from his home in Hidden Hills, California. "I might catch a piece of it."

Not that Scully has any regrets since retiring after last season. He says he's grateful for every minute he spent with the Dodgers, the franchise he joined 67 years ago in Brooklyn and followed to Los Angeles eight years later. He feels blessed to have worked as long as he did covering the game he fell in love with as a boy.

But he's learned that after a lifetime in the broadcast booth, watching a game as a fan holds little appeal.

"During the World Series back around '77 or '78, there was a game at Dodger Stadium with the Yankees, and I went to the game as a spectator. Now, I hadn't been as a spectator in a long, long time, and I felt somewhat restless that I wasn't broadcasting," Scully recalled Tuesday.

"I did not have the challenge of trying to describe, accurately and quickly, the way it should be done. I just sat there, and I was not happy, I'll be honest. So I realized that although I love the game, what I loved more was broadcasting it," he said.

Scully spoke to the AP because the Library of Congress has announced it will preserve his call of a 1957 game between the Dodgers and the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, the final time they played at the hallowed old stadium. Both teams moved to California after that season, opening up the West Coast to Major League Baseball.

Scully's call of Sandy Koufax's 1965 perfect game is more famous. But that game at the Polo Grounds meant more to him personally, because he grew up going to games there, cheering for the Giants and dreaming of watching from the press box.

"It was so meaningful to me. I'm not sure what it really means to baseball fans anymore," Scully said. "The sands of time have washed over the Polo Grounds. But for me, it was one of the more memorable games I was ever involved in."

During that broadcast, Scully implored the players to take their time before there franchises left town: "Let's take it easy, we just want to take one last lingering look at both of you." The Library of Congress called it "a masterful example of the artistry that great sports announcers bring to their work, as well as their empathy for players and fans."

Six decades later, Scully is having an easier time letting go. So no plans to keep track Monday when Los Angeles plays the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium.

"All summer long, I expect to get feelings of nostalgia, wistfulness, whatever the word may be, but no, I am comfortable, I do know in my heart and soul I am where I should be, and that really is all I need," he said.

"Sure, after 67 years, you'll bet I'll miss it," he added. "But heck, I miss the guys I hung out with when I was in school."