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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."

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Capitals enter All-Star break on sour note in Toronto as losing streak extends to seven

Capitals enter All-Star break on sour note in Toronto as losing streak extends to seven

The Capitals enter the All-Star break losers of seven straight after a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

In desperate need of a win before the All-Star Break, the Capitals kept Alex Ovechkin in the lineup delaying his one-game suspension and started Braden Holtby for the second consecutive night. Yet, the result was the same as they gave up six goals for the third straight game and for the fourth time during the current losing streak. Washington has been outscored 36-18 during the streak.

Here are four reasons the Caps lost.

Nazem Kadri

Kadri is always a thorn in the side of the Caps, most notably for his knee-on-knee hit on Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs back in 2017. He was again a pest against Washington with a hat trick for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

The Caps scored late in the first period, but Kadri scored with 26 seconds remaining to even the game at one. Kadri also extended Toronto’s lead to two goals for the first time at the 2:10 mark into the second period of a one-timer from the high slot. He completed the hat trick later in the third as William Nylander shot the puck, hit both posts and the puck went straight to the stick of Kardi who had an empty net yawning.

Washington has now given up a hat trick in three straight games and in four of their last five.

A quick response

A growing problem for Washington during this losing streak is allowing quick response goals. Nicklas Backstrom put the Caps on the board with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first period.

Great, Washington is headed to the locker room up 1-0, right? Not so fast.

Morgan Rielly dumped the puck and tried to pass it to the middle. Nylander kicked it back behind the net and the play should have been dead, but Michal Kempny tipped it back out to center and no one seemed to know where it was except Kadri who came streaking in and tapped it past Holtby to tie the game.

The goal came just 47 seconds after Backstrom put Washington on the board.

An untimely penalty

Ovechkin is doing just about everything he can to keep the Caps in this games and he scored again on Wednesday. But tonight's game really turned on an Ovechkin penalty in the second period.

Ovechkin was called for cross-checking Kaspari Kapanen about two minutes after Nikita Zaitsev tied the game at 2. At that point, Washington had never trailed in the game. They had yielded leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but overall were playing significantly better than they did on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Auston Matthews would go on to score on the resulting power play. That would be the first of three unanswered goals for Toronto.

A rough penalty kill for John Carlson

The Leafs were able to cash in on the penalty kill because of a rough shift for defenseman John Carlson. With the puck on his stick behind the net, Carlson did not try clearing the puck around the boards. Instead, he turned up ice and fired it right to John Tavares. Tavares blocked the clear and kept the puck in. Later on in the shift, Matthews was skating in looking for a shot. Carlson dropped to a knee looking for the shot block, but he was too quick. Matthews curled it around a now helpless Carlson, then fired the puck through Holtby to give Toronto a lead they would not relinquish.

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2019 NFL mock draft: Redskins roundup in the first round

2019 NFL mock draft: Redskins roundup in the first round

A quick reminder about gauging NFL mock drafts three months out before the actual fun in late April: Focus more on the position than the player.

<<GALLERY: 2019 NFL MOCK DRAFT 11.0>>

Public draft boards remain fluid and will remain in this flexible state for several weeks before hardening in early March after the Combine. Compared to pro scouts and front office personnel, outside analysts are always behind the curve. Opinions change once sources share internal projections and rumors spread.

There is also more time for homework on a concentrated batch rather than all of college football.

Alabama safety Deionte Thompson lived in the top 10 before the college football playoffs. Two games later, mock drafters dropped him into the 20’s after struggles against Oklahoma and Clemson. Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen, Oklahoma guard Cody Ford, Kansas State offensive lineman Dalton Risner and Alabama running back Josh Jacobs are among the prospects positively trending.

Team needs, however, remain stable for weeks, outside of the rogue trade or contract extension. Clubs are not permitted to enter into contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents until March 11.

With the knowledge of strengths and weaknesses, study how many players at a position of interest are mocked with a general range of your team’s selection. This is more important for now than a specific prospect at a precise draft slot.

Now, it wouldn't be kosher to put entire mock drafts from other entities on our site (Click here for my latest full two-round mock draft).

Instead, here’s a sampling of what football thinkers are envisioning for the Redskins in the first round.

CBS and USA Today: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

We have a trade. CBS moves the Redskins to the Green Bay’s selection at 12, while USA Today jumps Washington all the way to nine via Buffalo. Both scenarios have Washington selecting a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback reared in the Big 12 Conference. Apologies for the Robert Griffin III flashbacks.

As discussed here, the Redskins may at least need to jump Denver at 10 and Miami at 13 for a passer, assuming Murray or Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins slip past the Giants (6) and Jaguars (7).

NFL.com: Malcolm Brown, WR, Oklahoma

Pro Football Focus: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

Analyst Daniel Jeremiah states Brown, a true speed threat, makes for a “tempting” option assuming Washington sorts out its quarterback situation. PFF’s Steve Palazzolo writes Washington “needs to replenish their receiving corps and Arcega-Whiteside has one of the best combinations of body control and contested-catch skills in the draft.”

All fair points, but consider me a tad dubious about the Redskins going with a pass catcher at 15. The Redskins certainly need receiver help and more offensive playmakers overall. Adding a veteran ready to help meshes more with a coaching staff and perhaps front office likely putting more of a premium on immediate success after missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season. If slot target Jamison Crowder re-signs, that may eat up any remaining dollars directed for a receiver.

ESPN: Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida

Mel Kiper Jr. sends an edge rusher to Ashburn, specifically Florida’s Jachai Polite, who finished with 11 sacks this season. This need races to the top of Washington’s list should the team move on from free agent Preston Smith, and does not believe 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson can handle the gig.

SB Nation: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

“There are a number areas Washington could address with the No. 15 pick,” writes Dan Kadar. “Cornerback is one of them, and Murphy is pro-ready corner thanks to his instincts and ability to play the ball in the air.”

Again, fair points, and Murphy’s cover skills have some league voice considering him the draft’s top corner ahead of LSU’s Greedy Williams. However…

The Redskins could not really justify a corner in the first round if Josh Norman stays. Now, should they decide the high-priced defender provides more value as a salary cap casualty, then corner becomes a screaming need. It also looks like there will be a handful of corners potentially around on Day 2, including Clemson's Trayvon Mullen.

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