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LeBron James’ legacy at crossroads

A CAUTIONARY note to LeBron James as he chases down a possible fourth NBA championship and, inseparable from that, the legacy he has craved since entering the league: Beware of the Miami Heat.

The line for LeBron between securing his spot atop the GOAT mountain and finding himself forever blocked — the space between himself and Micheal Jordan — is razor thin. The difference may just be this thinned-out, underdog, on-paper-injured-and-thus-underwhelming Miami Heat team.

Consider: If the Lakers win this series on Saturday morning, giving LeBron James four rings, he will add another layer of depth and nuance to his finely-tuned narrative that he is the game’s greatest player ever. He will have led a third franchise all the way, in a season that properly honours the late, great Kobe Bryant, all under the duress and difficulty of a Covid-19 pandemic, a testament to LeBron’s mental toughness even in a bubble that bested other stars.

And he would have done it against his former team, selling the notion once and for all that the only consistent ingredient LeBron needs for greatness is himself.

Win this one, and the Lakers celebrate, Anthony Davis signs a long-term deal, LeBron and this team chase titles in the years ahead even as he pursues individual accolades, including becoming the game’s all-time leading scorer. His losing NBA Finals record fades away — as it should — in the Jordan vs. LeBron talk.

Squandering this Finals lead and losing to the shorthanded Heat would cause insurmountable damage to LeBron’s legacy.

That’s one scenario. Here’s another.

The Heat’s victory in Game 3 sparked a shocking Finals comeback. It turns out LeBron couldn’t even beat a Miami team that for much of the series was missing two of its best four players. It also turns out the best teammate he’s ever had in terms of fit — Anthony Davis — wasn’t enough to stop King James from succumbing to a less-than-royal 3-7 record in the NBA Finals.

LeBron becomes more Jerry West than Michael Jordan.

In this reality, the list of players who have bested LeBron in the Finals — Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and, now, the talented but not exactly overpowering Jimmy Butler — grows so long all that Jordan talk starts to feel off.

Suddenly, a look at LeBron’s postseason career conjures a different kind of image than Jordan’s: That two of the most surprising NBA champions of the century, the 2016 Dallas Mavericks and this 2020 Miami Heat, were fortunate enough to face a star like LeBron James who couldn’t close the deal, even with superstar talent around him. And the Warriors and Spurs, in retrospect, who more than held their own against him in their numerous showdowns, stake a higher claim to greatness than the patchwork of LeBron James Finals teams.

Passing Jordan isn’t just about what’s true. It’s about what we think is true — how we want to remember things, how we filter all of this through our memories and biases, through the Rorschach test of what is first conjured as “LeBron” or “Jordan.”

Fans are fickle, sure, but so is the pursuit of something as hallowed as Michael Jordan’s place in the game. To claim that mantle, you better have the mettle to beat a Miami Heat team that’s lesser than your own Lakers squad, and that was on the ropes and ready to go down in Game 3.

For a moment, the Heat wobbled. The Lakers pressed. A 3-0 series lead looked likely. That’s when Jimmy Butler pulled a LeBron against LeBron, going off for 10 fourth-quarter points on the way to a 40-11-13 showcase, the only time a player has ever topped LeBron James in a Finals game in points, rebounds and assists. That also made it 73 points that Butler either scored or assisted on, the second-most in NBA Finals history — all without taking a single 3-point shot. Oh, and Butler effectively guarded and flustered LeBron, too, besting him in every facet of that game.

If all of that sparks a Heat turning point, it will be on LeBron — and no one else — for not doing what Jimmy Butler did, and imposing his will on that game and ultimately the series.

This is not to disrespect the Miami Heat. They’re an excellent, dangerous, well-coached group. But they do not feature a top 10 NBA player, Butler notwithstanding. They are young, and have shown it at times in this series. They are certainly beat up, with Bam Adebayo playing just 21 minutes so far in the series, and Goran Dragic less than 15, forcing even more pressure onto Tyler Herro and Butler.

Most people still think the Lakers win this series. But the NBA Finals, like legacies, are fragile things. LeBron James would be wise to see this Heat team as a threat to both, and respond tonight accordingly.

LA Lakers cool Miami Heat to move within one win of title

The Los Angeles Lakers are a game away from winning their first championship in 10 years after they beat Miami Heat 102-96 to go 3-1 up in the NBA Finals.

Listless and uninspired, the Los Angeles Lakers meandered through another sloppy first half in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

They discovered a purpose in the second half offensively and defensively to beat the Miami Heat.

Their last title in 2010 was led by Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January.

The Lakers are on the verge of their 17th overall championship, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for most in NBA history. James is also one victory from his fourth championship and third with three teams

LeBron James starred with 28 points for the Lakers, while Anthony Davis’ crucial three-pointer saw them edge clear late in the fourth quarter.

“We understand what’s at stake,” said James. “The job is not done. Not yet. But they’re on the brink.” – cbssports.com/bbc.com