Dwight Howard

What injury? Kobe challenges Howard to step up with Gasol out.

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Kobe Bryant is done with the injury excuse.

No doubt injuries have set the Lakers back this season, they’ve been part of the reason they have never really coalesced as a team. But the best teams step up when players are injured. The Chicago Bulls are 29-19 and haven’t had Derrick Rose all season. The Pacers are 31-16 without their leading scorer Danny Granger. Even recently, the Lakers opponent Thursday night — the Boston Celtics — have gone 5-0 since Rajon Rondo went down.

For Kobe it is past time for injuries to be an excuse — for Lakers fans it was past time like a month ago, but that’s another post. The Lakers have won six of seven games and if they are going to make a playoff push the time is now.

The Lakers were dealt a blow with Pau Gasol being out at least six weeks and all the pressure of that falls on Dwight Howard’s achy shoulders. The Lakers need the Dwight Howard they expected this summer and they need him now, Kobe said speaking to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com.

“We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We need some urgency….

“Dwight worries too much about what people think,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I told him, ‘You can’t worry about that. It’s holding you back.’ He says, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but it’s always hovering around him. He just wants people to like him. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.”

The question isn’t “is Kobe right?” The question that matters becomes “is this how you motivate Dwight Howard? Or does this push him away?”

When Howard was traded to Los Angeles following the Dwightmare we noted what we had learned from Kobe and LeBron James — the only thing that swings public opinion back in your favor after a PR disaster is winning. Playing well and winning because of it. Kobe isn’t loved but he is respected. LeBron isn’t on the least liked athletes lists anymore after a gold medal and a title last season.

Howard isn’t on those lists yet either, but only winning will change his reputation that has taken a beating among sports fan. A reputation further hurt by his play this season — no doubt injuries have hampered that play, but fans in Los Angeles don’t want to hear it anymore. They know the winning needs to start right now if the Lakers are going to win enough to even make the playoffs this season. They know Howard is the key to that.

Howard will be a game-time call for the Lakers on Thursday. For the next six weeks, fair or not, the Lakers success will be on his shoulders. We’ll see if he can carry that.

Watch Stephen Curry’s late lockdown defense (video)

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Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant might not think much of Stephen Curry‘s defense – Durant gave a great and tremendously honest answer – but Curry was at his defensive best late in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the Thunder last night.

Curry locked up Durant multiple times. Also included in that clip: Curry’s rebound in traffic, because rebounding is a key part of defense.

The Draymond Green kicking controversy continued through Game 5

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after scoring against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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We’ve shown you the video evidence beforeDraymond Green tries to sell calls by kicking. Despite the Flagrant 2 he picked up for one of those kicks that connected with Steven Adams‘ groin, he said he was never going to start playing “careful.”

He certainly didn’t in Game 5 — he got his foot up high not once but twice.

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As we said back when it happened, the league needs to come down harder on this next season — Green is far from the only player who does it, and the league can’t only call it a foul when it connects. The habit needs to be broken with all the players doing it.

Those kicks were not even the play were Green got a technical foul, his fifth of the playoffs (get to seven and you get an automatic one-game suspension).

Did Kevin Durant throw shade at Stephen Curry’s defense? Does Curry care?

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In the fourth quarter Thursday night, Stephen Curry came up big — on defense. He had a strip of a Kevin Durant shot as KD tried to bring the ball up for a shot, plus he had another steal. Curry is no lock down defender, but he made some plays.

After the game, Durant was asked if Curry is an underrated defender (video above). First, notice that Russell Westbrook laughs at the question — he hates giving opposing players compliments. Remember he said before the series Curry wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before. Durant stammered at first then tried to give a more diplomatic answer, but threw a little shade at Curry in the process.

“You know, he’s pretty good, but he doesn’t guard the best point guards. I think they do a good job of putting a couple guys on Russell, from Thompson to Iguodala, and Steph, they throw him in there sometimes. But he moves his feet pretty well, he’s good with his hands. But, you know, I like our matchup with him guarding Russ.”

As he should. I like the matchup of Westbrook vs. every other point guard in the league. Westbrook tore Curry up in Games 3 and 4.

Of course, Curry was asked about Durant’s comments when he came into the interview room, but he refused to take the bait.

“I got a great teammate that’s obviously a better defender on the perimeter. I like the challenge. I do my job the best I can”

He’s got a couple of teammates that are better defenders on the perimeter — Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Those guys are just busy with other players this series because the Thunder are deep and present a plethora of challenges.

This is all a tempest in a Conference Finals teapot. It wasn’t as big a deal as some in the media will try to make it out to be.

Curry is going to have to play defense and score better in Game 6 than his improved Game 5 play if the Warriors are coming back for one more game at Oracle Arena.

Tyronn Lue: ‘This is our Game 7’

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23:  Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) To keep their season alive, the Toronto Raptors are counting on a home-court advantage that saved them before.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers moved within one win of their second straight NBA Finals on Wednesday night by routing Toronto 116-78 in Game 5, the fourth lopsided game in a series where both teams have struggled mightily on the road.

Paced by the resurgent Kevin Love with 25 points, and 23 apiece from James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs built a 43-point lead in the second half and demolished the Raptors. Toronto lost three games in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena by a combined 88 points.

Fortunately, the Raptors are back home in front of their own frenzied fans and will host Game 6 on Friday night in Air Canada Centre, where the Cavs are 0-4 this season and lost Games 3 and 4 in this series.

After going 32-9 at home during the regular season, Toronto is 8-2 on its floor in the playoffs, and pulled off a Game 7 wins over Indiana and Miami.

The Raptors need it to be home sweet home one more time.

“We’ve got to play the same way we played the two home games we’ve had so far,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said Thursday, a day after he was hounded by Cleveland’s guards and scored just 13 on 5 of 12 shooting. “That’s all we can do. Can’t worry about the road. We might not get a chance to go back on the road if we don’t play the right way tomorrow.”

Toronto was overmatched from the opening tap in Game 5, falling behind by 18 after one quarter, 31 at halftime and finishing with 18 turnovers, five by Lowry.

“They’re drastically bad when you’ve got LeBron coming at you,” Lowry said.

In an all-over-the-map postseason, an elimination game against Cleveland is about as drastically bad as things have been for the Raptors, who led 3-2 in each of the first two rounds. Even so, Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan didn’t seem too troubled after Thursday’s film session.

“I don’t know why we get so comfortable once we put ourselves in a tougher situation,” DeRozan said. “We’ve been doing it all year and we always bounce back. I think we just thrive off adversity.”

Cleveland’s home record was one win better than Toronto’s this season, and the Cavs are unbeaten in seven home playoff games since Game 6 of last year’s finals. While his team has struggled in Toronto, coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t want to have to put that streak on the line.

“We want to come in with the approach that this is our Game 7,” Lue said. “We’ve worked hard all season to get to this point, and we want to treat this next game as our Game 7.”

After Wednesday’s big win, Irving said the hostile atmosphere the Cavs encountered in Toronto made them “probably my first legitimate two road games that I’ve experienced in my playoff career.”

“Our communication, everything had to be a lot sharper,” Irving said of battling the noise in the North. “We took a lot that we had to learn from that game, including myself. Going into Game 6, I feel a little bit more prepared than I was going into Game 3 and 4 of knowing what to expect, what it’s going to be like.”

If there was any good news for the Raptors in Game 5, it was the return of center Jonas Valanciunas, out since May 7 with a sprained right ankle. Casey said Valanciunas, who scored nine points in 18 minutes Wednesday, could provide offensive versatility in Game 6.

“Getting the ball in the post will be a calming effect for us,” Casey said. “He’s got to be able to make it out of the double team, as the guards do. We looked at that today. He can quarterback out of the low post as well as score out of the low post, and it gives us a third option.”

Can home court advantage and a healthy Valanciunas prolong the deepest playoff run in Raptors history and help Toronto reach a third Game 7?

Casey hasn’t given up hope.

“We’ve been here before,” he said. “We’re here at home. We’ve played well here at home. We are playing against one of the best teams in the NBA right now. Our guys take solace from being at home, understanding we’ve been here before and we can bounce back from it. I have faith we will bounce back.”