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THE STORY: Miami Heat superstar LeBron James has had to deal with critics, fan backlash and his own impossibly high standards throughout his career. Tuesday night, he overcame a brand new challenge as leg cramps left him in severe pain in the waning moments of a 102-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. James is expected to be in the lineup Thursday as he aims for his first career NBA title when the Heat entertain the Thunder in Game 5.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ABC, TSN
ABOUT THE THUNDER: A 43-point performance by Russell Westbrook still wasn't enough to lift the Thunder to victory, leaving them needing three straight wins to secure their first NBA championship. No team in league history has ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit to prevail, but superstar Kevin Durant says his team won't quit until the Heat clinch the title. "We're going to keep fighting," he said. "Frustrating to lose like that. It was just frustrating. But we're going to keep fighting, man. That's how we've been since I got here. We're going to keep fighting and just take it a possession and a game at a time."
ABOUT THE HEAT: Miami fans were spooked when guard Dwyane Wade got up favoring his back after hitting the court hard earlier in the night. He was fine, but James was not after falling during a drive to the basket and limping around until he was finally subbed out. James suffered cramping in both legs that limited his effectiveness, but he still knocked down a pivotal 3-pointer and doesn't expect to be hobbled in the Heat's first crack at a series win over Oklahoma City. "You had to play with an intensity that you had nothing left," Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. "He didn't. He was playing at an incredible pace."
- Heat are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 home games.
- Over is 7-2-1 in Heat's last 10 overall.
- Thunder are 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings in Miami.
1. Westbrook joined Rick Barry as the only players 23 or younger to score at least 43 points in a Finals game. Barry reached the mark three times.
2. James has scored at least 15 points in the paint in all four games of the Finals. He didn't reach that total in any of the six Finals games last year against Dallas.
3. Thunder G James Harden has a bruised left hand but is expected to remain in the lineup for Game 5. Harden is shooting just 35 percent in the Finals.
Early Game 5 money fading Heat with title on the line
By JASON LOGAN - WRITER
LeBron James is just one win away from claiming his first crown following the Miami Heat’s 104-98 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night.
Miami, which leads the series 3-1 after losing Game 1 in OKC, opened as a 3.5-point home favorite for Game 5 Thursday. That spread has been bet down to -3 with early action on a desperate Thunder squad trying to stay alive and swing the series back to Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they are 9-1 SU this postseason (6-4 ATS).
With the 2-3-2 finals format, the Heat have a shot to close out the series and win the franchise’s second NBA title at home Thursday. No team in NBA history has taken a 3-1 series lead and gone on to lose the NBA Finals.
“There’ll be an incredible amount of noise on the outside and we have to focus on staying in the moment,” Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “We’ve had a good deal of experience doing that.”
Bargain hunters can get Oklahoma City, which opened the finals as the series favorite (-165), at +500 while the Heat are sitting at a pricy -670 to win the championship. Miami opened the series as high as +149. The Heat are available at -150 on the Game 5 moneyline with the Thunder priced at +140.
The total for Thursday’s Game 5 opened at 193 points and has climbed to 193.5. The over/under in the NBA Finals so far is 2-1-1.
Thursday’s betting tips: Czech captain questionable again
Weather to watch
Los Angeles Dodgers at Oakland Athletics – 14 mph winds are expected to blow out to centerfield.
NBA: Heat are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 home games.
MLB: Yankees are 31-9 in Phil Hughes' last 40 starts as a home favorite.
WNBA: The Indiana Fever are 16-6 ATS in their last 22 home games.
WNBA: Thunder are 2-6-1 ATS in their last 9 games following a ATS loss.
MLB: Mariners are 2-10 in their last 12 games with umpire Todd Tichenor behind home plate.
WNBA: Over is 1-6 in the Connecticut Sun's last seven road games.
4 – Portugal has hit the post four times already in the Euro 2012 and only three teams have ever hit the woodwork five times in an entire European Championship tournament.
Injury that shouldn’t be overlooked
Tomas Rosicky, Czech Republic – The Czech Republic captain’s status is in doubt again as he tries to come back from an Achilles injury that kept him out of the club’s last group match. The playmaking midfielder did train lightly Tuesday, but the squad considers him a game-time decision.
Game of the day
Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat (-3, 193.5)
“I just don’t understand why we start out the first quarter the way we did with the lineup we had, and all of a sudden we change and adjust to what they had going on. So they won the last three quarters and that’s what happened… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” – Kendrick Perkins, wondering about the lineup changes Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks made after the club jumped out to a 13-3 early lead in Game 4.
Notes and tips
As expected, Jeremy Guthrie was pulled from the Colorado Rockies' rotation Tuesday. However, in a pitching move that shows desperate times call for desperate measures, manager Jim Tracy announced the Rockies would go with a four-man rotation and the starters would be on a limit of 75 pitches. The remaining starters are Alex White, Jeff Francis, Christian Friedrich and Josh Outman, who was pulled after 72 pitches and 4 1/3 innings Tuesday against Philadelphia. When their starter goes less than six innings, which is bound to happen more with this plan, the Rockies are 9-32 overall and 3-15 on the road.
The Minnesota Lynx set a WNBA record with their 10th consecutive win to start a season last week, but couldn’t keep it going in their last game. The Lynx scored a season-low 62 points in a three-point loss to Seattle, shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor and 25 percent from downtown. The Lynx look to get back to their winning ways Thursday as 14-point home favorites against New York.
After leaving late in Game 4 with leg cramps, LeBron James returned to practice with the Miami Heat Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s Game 5. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says James wasn’t limited in the workout and that he expects the MVP to 100 percent as the club looks to finish off the Oklahoma City Thunder, who will have guard James Harden available after he bruised his hand Tuesday.
The Thunder look to bounce back from their 104-98 loss in Game 4 and build on their 4-1 ATS record in their last 5 games when their opponent scores 100 points or more in the previous game. Oklahoma City is the pick (+3) according to Dunkel, which has the Heat favored by only 1 1/2. Dunkel Pick: Oklahoma City (+3). Here are all of today's picks
THURSDAY, JUNE 21
Time Posted: 7:00 a.m. EST
Game 509-510: Oklahoma City at Miami (9:00 p.m. EST)
Dunkel Ratings: Oklahoma City 127.863; Miami 129.185
Dunkel Line & Total: Miami by 1 1/2; 189
Vegas Line & Total: Miami by 3; 193 1/2
Dunkel Pick: Oklahoma City (+3); Under