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By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Charles Barkley was one of Lebron James’ biggest critics when James decided to leave Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat. Barkley was so vocal in his criticsm, James addressed Barkley in a Nike commercial, referencing Barkley’s “I am not a role model,” commercial and saying “hi Chuck.” Now, Barkley thinks that James is the reason the Miami Heat will defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I think Miami’s going to win this series, because I just think Lebron’s on a mission,” Barkley told the WIP Morning Show on Monday. “I think he’s finally realized that it is his team, and he needs to be the closer, finisher, do it all. But they don’t have a very good team, they have a very small team, which Dallas exposed last year. And they’re not very deep. So if Lebron doesn’t go crazy they’re not going to win,” he said.

“[James is] the best player in the NBA,” Barkley said. “I’ve been saying all year, the Miami Heat are only going to go as far as Lebron takes them. Like, Dwyane’s a great scorer, but Lebron makes everyone around him better.  I’ve been critical of Lebron because of the simple fact that I have no idea why he defers to anybody. When you’re the best player in the world you don’t defer to anybody. And I think something, hopefully in the last couple of weeks has kicked in and he realized, like dude, don’t defer, this is your team. You’ve got to lead that team. Don’t defer to anybody.”

Should James ever defer to Dwyane Wade? “No, because he’s a better player, and he makes everybody around him better,” Barkley said. “Everybody hates on Lebron, because first of all, that Decision thing and the way he handled the Cleveland thing coming out on stage saying that they’re going to win five, six, seven championships,” he said. “Dwyane doesn’t get any blame for not closing last year in the Finals does he?”

Barkley acknowledged it would be a close series, and thinks that if Oklahoma City wins, it will be because of their frontcourt. “To key to me is the Oklahoma City big guys. If those big guys can score … neither one of them are great scorers. They can flip that series. Because Lebron and Dwyane and Russell Westbrook and James Harden are probably going to cancel each other out. But Oklahoma City their big guys are not great scorers. And they’re going to have to counter Chris Bosh, that’ going to have to be the key,” Barkley said.

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