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Nuggets blow out Lakers to force a Game 7

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Denver more than held serve on its home court in Thursday night’s Game 6 against the Lakers; the team made a statement. Facing their second elimination game of the series, the Nuggets made sure this one was never in doubt, opening the game on a 13-0 run and leading by as many as 28 points while cruising to an easy 113-96 win to even the series at three games apiece.

Game 7 is Saturday in Los Angeles.

“There’s no way I thought what happened tonight would happen,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said afterward. But really, the way his team has competed in every game since the first one of the series, the way that Game 6 played out wasn’t all that surprising.

Ty Lawson set the tone for Denver from the very beginning, and finished with 32 points in 30 minutes, shooting 13-of-18 from the field, 5-of-6 from three-point distance, while adding five rebounds and six assists. Andre Miller was once again solid off the bench running the offense, and Corey Brewer was able to provide an offensive spark for Denver in this one, as well.

On the Lakers side, it was once again the story of too much Kobe Bryant and not enough from anyone else. Bryant was physically ill heading into the contest, and missed shootaround altogether due to a stomach virus. He required an IV treatment before the game and another at halftime just so he would have enough fluids in his system to be able to go.

“My room resembled a scene from ‘The Exorcist,'” Bryant said of his day spent with the illness. While he clearly did not appear to be himself, he played well, and finished with 31 points in 37 minutes on 13-of-23 shooting.

But for the second straight game, Pau Gasol was completely non-existent, and it wasn’t just his 1-of-10 shooting that saw him finish with only three points. Gasol was slow in his defensive rotations, and really seems to have either a lack of focus, interest, or both since Andrew Bynum has emerged as the team’s preferred number two option.

In this series, neither Gasol nor Bynum have been a legitimate offensive option at all. Denver’s defense continues to sag on the Lakers’ bigs inside, and L.A.’s perimeter players not named Kobe have failed to consistently respond. Bynum was at least somewhat active, grabbing 16 boards and blocking four shots to aid the Lakers’ effort. But his team needed more than the 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting he was able to muster.

After the Lakers’ horrific overall effort in Game 5, and with the absence of energy to start the game once again in Game 6, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to flip a magical switch when they’re faced with their own elimination game in Los Angeles on Saturday. One bright spot for L.A. will be the return of Metta World Peace to the starting lineup, after serving his seven-game suspension for the elbow he landed to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden a couple of weeks back.

But the Lakers problems go deeper than the defensive intensity and occasional three-point shooting that he might be able to bring. Gasol has to find a way to impact the game if the Lakers are to compete in Game 7 and beyond, and can no longer fail to contribute on either end of the court if his team is to have a chance.

Role players like Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Ramon Sessions are going to have to consistently knock down open shots to give their big men some room to operate in the paint, and L.A. is going to have to find a way to slow down Lawson, tighten up the rotations defensively, and bring the intensity from the start if the Lakers want to make it out of the first round.

None of this has happened consistently in this series, of course, and it hasn’t happened at all in the past two games. The talent is there for the Lakers to beat this Nuggets team one more time at home on Saturday, but it will take maximum effort from everyone on the roster to make it happen, along with some adjustments from Mike Brown in the way L.A. uses its weapons offensively.

Given all of that, despite having to go on the road for a Game 7, you have to believe that this Denver team likes its chances.

Lakers GM Kupchak tries to brush off Jim Buss’ timeline discussion

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to reporters at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, April 15, 2016. With Kobe Bryant's $25 million salary, ravenous shot selection and dominant personality gone from the basketball team after 20 years, Kupchak says he will meet with head coach Byron Scott and owner Jim Buss in a few days to discuss their options for the Lakers, which finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65 in Bryant's farewell season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
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Consider this a little preview: On Thursday the ProBasketballTalk podcast returns, opening with a discussion of the Lakers and the Pacific division with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. We talk about the young core — D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, etc. — and how Luke Walton fits with them. How this is a team that if handled properly could develop into something of quality in a couple of years as these players come along. Patience is key.

But then we got to what Medina called the “elephant in the room”: Jim Buss’ timeline for returning to contending. He’s the head of basketball operations and vowed to at least make the second round of the playoffs at least by this season. Which is not happening. Will Buss be patient? Is he grounded in today’s NBA reality? Will the woman with the hammer, Jeanie Buss, hold him to that timeline? Does she have the backing of the other Buss children to push him out? (Reportedly she does.) It has Shakespearian drama potential.

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was asked about that Tuesday and wanted no part of the question. Via Medina at the Daily News.

“I’m not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about,” Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. “I’m not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we’ve created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we’ve surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I’m excited about our coaching staff….

“Wins and losses, I couldn’t pick a number,” Kupchak said. “I could guess. But I would not guess in front of you. That’s not something I would do. That’s something I would stare at for the rest of the year.”

The Lakers should win more than the 17 of last year, maybe climb into the upper 20s, with 30 wins being the goal. That would signify a good season. But what matters is development, and if the Lakers are better at the end of the season, if their young players are on the right track, then that is success for this season.

Everyone around the Lakers understands that.

But is that enough to save Jim Buss’ job? That’s a different question.

New challenges face Portland guard CJ McCollum in Year four

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) CJ McCollum became a starter for the Trail Blazers last season, broke out as the NBA’s Most Improved Player then signed a big contract over the summer.

Driving him all along the way was third-year pressure.

“Because I knew that was a make-or-break year for me. I know that going into year three I hadn’t played particularly well. I’d had flashes, but I just didn’t sustain a level of consistency for a season.

“In our league you get three years, you get traded, you get put in a box and they say `This is what you are,”‘ McCollum said when the team convened this week for training camp.

The 25-year-old guard became a star in the Blazers’ backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team’s starters left in the offseason.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Blazers were considered a team that was rebuilding.

But they surpassed expectations, finishing 44-38 and earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

At one point last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle referred to Lillard and McCollum as “a younger version of those Golden State guys.”

McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the regular season. He had 197 3-pointers, fourth most for the Blazers in one season. He scored in double figures in 79 games.

He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season and the dramatic turnaround earned him the Most Improved Player award.

That improvement was the most since Tony Campbell from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points with Minnesota between the ’88-89 and `89-90 seasons.

McCollum averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the postseason last season.

But at times he was nervous that he was just an injury away from seeing all the hard work fizzle away.

“It was nerve-wracking for me because if you get hurt so many times you fear it. You’re like, `Oh, this could be it,”‘ he said. “So for me to get through a season healthy and to play well, it was comforting.”

McCollum, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh, missed the first 34 games of his rookie season with a foot injury.

The next season he was a reserve, but he started to turn heads down the stretch and into the playoffs after starter Wesley Matthews was knocked out with a ruptured Achilles. His postseason included a 33-point game against Memphis.

This summer the Blazers solidified their backcourt for years to come by signing McCollum to a four-year contract worth $106 million. It will keep him in Portland through the 2020-21 season.

While McCollum says he feels “less pressure” this season, he’s still looking to grow. The Blazers signed free agent Evan Turner in the offseason to help shore up the Blazers’ depth at guard.

“As a younger player you just play and react,” McCollum said. “As an older player you start to get more experience and you start to `think’ the game. I think once I put those two things together I can be a special player.”

Report: With new building set to open, Sacramento pushes to host 2020 All-Star Game

The Sacramento Kings released the NBA basketball team's new logo, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. The new logo has a reshaped crown and new typeface meant to convey a modern look. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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In just a few weeks, the new arena that kept the Kings in Sacramento is set to open. It’s a well-designed basketball-first facility that both the fans and players should love.

Now the Kings want to show that building off to everybody and host a future All-Star Game, reports James Ham of CSNCalifornia.com.

It’s not uncommon for a team with a new building to get to host the All-Star Game. The 2017 game is in New Orleans, 2018 is in Los Angeles, 2019 will go to Charlotte if the “bathroom bill” is repealed (or strongly modified). That makes 2020 the next one up.

The Kings new building is in downtown Sacramento, in a growing area close to the California state capital. The only question is whether that area has enough hotel rooms and nearby convention space to handle the massive influx of people that come to an All-Star Game. The league office has this mapped out, it knows how many hotel rooms it needs in close proximity to the arena, for example. If Sacramento can meet all those qualifications, it could well land the February showdown.

Sixers players have dinner with Will Smith

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Actor Will Smith attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Focus" at TCL Chinese Theatre on February 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Ali. Men in Black. I am Legend. Fresh Prince. Suicide Squad. Independence Day. Plus more than a few movies he’d like us to forget (hello Hancock).

Will Smith is all that — and part owner of the Philadephia 76ers.

As training camp opened, Smith took his team out to dinner, according to the Sixers official site.

Jahlil Okafor and his teammates weren’t told that the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning entertainer from West Philadelphia would be dining with them.

“It was great, it was a lot of fun,” said Okafor, who participated in Tuesday’s practice, despite sustaining a minor ankle sprain a few weeks ago. “Will Smith is my favorite celebrity, my favorite actor. It was great to hear him speak.”

Smith shared stories and passed along advice to a crowd consisting mostly of early to mid 20-year olds who grew up on his movies and albums.

“I think the main thing he said is the company you have around you,” Joel Embiid said. “He was trying to explain the people you have around you affect the type of person you are. He was just trying to tell us to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

It’s a good lesson for the Sixers in what could be a season of lessons coming for the Philadephia. This team is going to be better than it was a year ago, but don’t confuse that with good. They may get there someday, but there are a lot of hard lessons to learn between now and then.

But it’s a lot more fun to get some of those lessons from Will Smith.