|LeBron James left Game 4 with leg cramps on Tuesday night but said on Wednesday that he's improving. (Getty Images)|
Leg cramps or not, LeBron James will take a crack at getting his first ring.
The NBA's MVP was forced from the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder with leg cramps on Tuesday night. He said Wednesday that his condition is improving and that he expects to play during Game 5 at American Airlines Arena on Thursday night.
"I feel a lot better than I did [Tuesday] night," James said at practice on Wednesday. "Very tight. I'm still sore... I should be fine by [Thursday] night."
"He feels better," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was able to rehydrate, get some rest. Hopefully by [Thursday] he'll feel even better. But he was able to go through our practice, which was more of a glorified walk-through."
James went to the ground during the fourth quarter of Game 4 while attacking the basket. He got up gingerly, in evident pain, and the Heat were forced to call a timeout to attend to him with 5:15 remaining as they held a 92-90 lead over the Thunder.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed after the game that James had merely suffered cramps and not a more serious injury.
"LeBron had cramps," Spoelstra said. "We talked about it -- in his leg. We talked about it before the game, that you had to play with an intensity that you had nothing left by the end of the game, and he did. He was playing at an incredible pace and intensity level. It was warm in the building. I think you guys probably felt that. And he just had some cramps there at the end."
James appeared for his post-game podium press conference and said that he was feeling "a lot better."
Heat staffers applied ice and massaged James' leg as he drank Gatorade. At one point during the sideline treatment, he screamed in pain.
"I knew I wasn't injured," James during his post-game comments on Tuesday. "I just knew I had cramps. I've had it before. Your muscles basically just lock up on you, so I tried to walk, but they wasn't letting me move. So our trainer, Jay [Sabol], and Juwan [Howard] came out and assisted me to the bench. I wanted to walk to the bench, but my legs wouldn't allow me.But I've been there before. I've had cramps before, like I said, and it's not a pleasant feeling. But I'm happy that we've got a great training staff, a great organization, and they helped me get back on my feet. I was able to walk up here and talk to you guys."
James was able to briefly re-enter the game with 4:05 remaining in the fourth quarter -- and even hit a dramatic, go-ahead 3-pointer over Thunder guard Thabo Sefalosha to give Miami a 97-94 lead.
"I mean, the ball was swung to me, and the shot clock was going down," James said. "I just wanted to step up and try to make a play. You know, and I was able to drain that three and give us a lift. I was just trying to make a play. 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."
The cramps continued, though, and Heat coach elected to return James to the bench for the game's closing minutes.
"[The cramps] really didn't really go away," Spoelstra said. "At that point he was just trying to will his body to get in there and make something happen. That three was just sheer will and competitiveness, to contribute in some way. But it got to a point that it was four-on-five, so we had to make a change. He wanted to go back in, but it was obvious that he was going to hurt us if we kept him out there."
James finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists and 2 steals on 10-for-20 shooting in 44 minutes.
He's played an extraordinarily heavy load of minutes during the postseason. During the 2012 NBA playoffs, James has averaged 42.6 minutes per game, up from 37.5 minutes per game during the regular season. He's played 40+ minutes in 12 straight games. During The Finals, James has averaged 44 minutes per game.