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LeBron deals with cramping, lifts Heat in Game 4

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LeBron deals with cramping, lifts Heat in Game 4

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A limping, grimacing LeBron James shook off the pain of leg cramps to hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer and the Miami Heat held on to edge the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 on Tuesday, taking a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. No team has ever blown a 3-1 lead in the finals, so James' resilient basket with 2:51 remaining looks likely to be the moment that clinches the title for the Heat. "He was hurting," teammate Dwyane Wade said. "But that's what it's about this time of the year. It would hurt more if we lose the ballgame, so it feels a little better if you can win it." Imagine how good it will feel if the Heat get one more victory. Better get well fast, LeBron -- you're one win from the biggest party of your life. Game 5 is Thursday and James will have a chance to finish a nine-year chase that started in Cleveland before he left for South Florida before last season. "Of course it's there to think about," said James, making it clear he plans to play. "I'll be ready for Game 5." With James watching the final moments, Mario Chalmers finished off a stellar 25-point effort that matched Wade. James had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, missing a shot at a triple-double only because he was on the bench at the end with the thigh cramps. The Heat needed all James could give and more to hold off Russell Westbrook. He scored 43 points for the Thunder, who wasted an early 17-point lead but were never out of the game because of their sensational point guard. Kevin Durant had 28 points but James Harden threw in another clunker, finishing with eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. Westbrook and Durant were the only Thunder players to score in the last 16:46. "Shots were falling," said Westbrook, who was 20 of 32. "It really doesn't mean nothing. We didn't come out with the win." James stumbled to the court on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, staying on the offensive end of the floor as the Heat regained possession on a blocked shot, and he made a short jumper that made it 92-90. After Westbrook missed a jumper, the Heat called timeout as James gingerly went to the court. Unable to walk off, he was carried to the sideline. He returned to a huge roar with a little over 4 minutes left and the Heat down two, and after Chris Bosh tied it, James slowly walked into a pull-up 3-point attempt -- perhaps doing so knowing he couldn't drive by anyone -- and drilled it. "That 3 was just sheer will and competitiveness, to contribute in some way," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. That made it 97-94, and when Wade followed with a layup with 2:19 left, the Heat finally had enough room to withstand Westbrook, who kept coming all night. "I was just trying to make a play," James said. "If I was out on the floor, I wanted to try to make a play with the limited mobility I had at that time, and I was happy I was able to come through." Chalmers, the player who was struggling so badly that the Thunder put Durant on him in hopes of avoiding further foul trouble, made 9 of 15 shots, scoring more points than he had in the previous three games. "LeBron James is one of the most dominant players in the game, and he explodes many nights scoring-wise," said Wade. "But we've always got his back, and certain nights like tonight when he wasn't feeling his greatest, you have guys like Mario Chalmers step up, big plays, big moments. "That's what this team is built on, and that's the reason we're playing together." The Heat led 2-1 in the finals last year but James' struggles were their biggest problem as they lost the next three to Dallas. He tried to play through the pain, but the Heat had to call another timeout and remove him for good shortly after his go-ahead basket, and Spoelstra said Miami couldn't keep playing four against five. Bosh finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Heat, who quickly climbed out of the 17-point hole by scoring 16 straight points, with Chalmers and backup Norris Cole helping steady them until James and Wade got going. "We're going to keep fighting," Durant said. "It's just frustrating, but we're going to keep fighting. That's how we've been since I got here." In foul trouble the last two games, Durant began the game covering Chalmers, an adjustment that freed him from the burden of defending James. It kept Durant safe from fouls -- but the Thunder probably didn't count on the scoring explosion from Chalmers after he totaled just five points over the previous two games. "I took that as a little sign of disrespect," Chalmers said.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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