Just one win from a title, LeBron, Heat take nothing for granted
Despite holding a 3-1 series lead, the Heat consider Game 5 a 'must-win' game
LeBron James still remembers the pain from last year's Finals loss to the Mavs
OKC needs a miracle comeback, but doesn't have much experience to draw on
MIAMI -- Despite the Heat's 3-1 series lead, it seems that Miami needs a win more than Oklahoma City wants to avoid a loss.
"I have a job to do, and my job is not done," said LeBron James as he looked ahead to Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, when -- at last -- he might become a champion. "You know I've been very focused, and I'm determined for us to play at a high level. So I will make sure my guys are ready for Game 5, and we will be prepared.
"I have no idea what I'll say before we go out there. 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."
This entire postseason has served as Miami's response to the three season-ending losses it endured a year ago, when the Heat surrendered a 2-1 Finals lead to the eventual champion Mavericks. The pain from last year's loss still stings, and Miami has been adamant in its refusal to relive that misery.
The Thunder are in a different position. They have spent the 2012 Finals undergoing the sort of painful education that Miami already experienced. OKC needs to spark a miraculous comeback from a 3-1 deficit -- a disadvantage that has never been overcome in NBA Finals history -- but they have little experience from which to draw on.
"I don't really know too many," point guard Russell Westbrook said when asked to name a comeback that could inspire his team. "I don't really know none, honestly. The only one I can remember is -- it wasn't like a big comeback -- but the one we just had against San Antonio, down 0-2. We were down, and everybody said the series was over, and then we came back and won the series."
That recovery to win the Western Conference finals isn't likely to help the Thunder in this predicament, as the Heat are exhibiting a level of desperation that the Spurs' series could not match. The threats of Kevin Durant and Westbrook playing an explosive Game 5 -- along with the ever-present possibility of James Harden regaining his touch from the perimeter -- are helping Miami to stay focused.
"I am going to keep playing basketball the right way," Durant said. "I've got to be more aggressive, whether it's score or make a play. I believe in my teammates. If we miss a few shots, so what; we're going to keep going back to them, that's what teammates do. But I'm going to keep being me. If I see a shot, I'm going to take it, and I'm going to keep trying to go at these guys. But I have faith in my teammates no matter what. I think it's never too late."
That last point rings true, and LeBron knows it better than anyone. James has lost too many big games to take for granted the best opportunity of his nine-year NBA career. His leg cramps down the stretch in Game 4 were a reminder of how quickly chances can be lost, and that, especially now, he must cash in immediately.
"I haven't even really looked at it as just one game away," he said of the championship. "I look at it as this is our next game. As crazy as it sounds, I haven't got caught up in it. I won't get caught up in it. ... The human nature is to automatically think about after we win it, what are we going to do? I'm not there. I won't get there until those zeros hit and I see that we won. I'm the leader of this team, and I'm not comfortable right now. I'm comfortable in my game, but I'm not going to be comfortable until we seal this thing.
"It's a must-win for them, 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."
James doesn't need to celebrate prematurely. He knows what it feels like to lose in the Finals, and the memory of last year's loss is still fresh for him.
"The pressure? I haven't really felt it that much," James told reporters Wednesday. "Last year it was much more than it is today. I remember it being Game 5 last year with the series tied 2-2, it just felt more pressure, felt like it was more people here -- felt like you guys not only brought yourselves but brought your relatives all into Dallas.
"But I'm just more comfortable, just me being more comfortable and me just trying to seize an opportunity. First of all, I'm blessed because a lot of people never go to the Finals. Second of all, if they go, they never go back. And this is my third opportunity. So I'm just trying to make the most of it. And like I said, win, lose or draw, I'm giving my all, and I'm going to be happy. I'll be satisfied with that."
It's hard to take that last statement as completely honest. After all that he's been through, LeBron won't be satisfied unless he wins.
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