NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 6: In this Wild West saloon game the cards are on the table, it's about the faster draw

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Suns_Lakers.jpgThink of the Suns/Lakers series as a poker game in an old Wild West saloon somewhere outside Phoenix.

By Game 6, the cards are on the table. Both teams have gone all-in and flipped their two cards over. All that’s left to do is flip over the turn and river cards. Meaning the strategy is out there for everyone to see — there are no major Xs and Os changes to make any more.

But the fight is not done, the Suns are looking loose and talking Game 7.  The Lakers want their rest, like the Celtics.

In the Wild West the winner was the guy who was quicker on the draw. In this series, the quicker draw is the team that better executes better.

The key end of the floor this series is when the Lakers have the ball (the other end of the court is the more entertaining). Simply, the Lakers want to slow the Suns down by making them take the ball out of the basket, to make them come up and face a set defense. The Lakers do that when the get the ball inside — either by getting the ball in the post to Pau Gasol or via dribble penetration (which is what they used a lot more in Game 5).

The Suns want to block shots and contest inside, give the Lakers jump shots and hope they miss a lot. Which they often do. In the Lakers two losses in Phoenix they took 60 three-point shots, and the long rebounds fueled the Suns break.

On the fun end of the court, the Suns are going to run the pick-and-roll and the Lakers are going to try to take away the roll man. Which means Amare Stoudemire. The Lakers want Steve Nash to be the shooter. The problem with that, as Nash showed in Game 5, he hits a lot of shots.

Controlling the boards will matter. How hot Kobe is will matter. The Suns bench will matter. Which Lamar Odom — aggressive or spectator — shows up will matter. Ron Artest will find a way to matter.

But everybody knows that. Everyone knows their roles now. It’s just a matter of who is quicker on the draw.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.