Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

Once again Lakers GM Kupchak defends Dwight Howard

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Thursday night in the Lakers win Dwight Howard didn’t put up monster numbers against Nikola Pekovic (who left early injured) and the Minnesota Timberwolves — 11 points, 13 rebounds — but you could see he was moving much better, particularly on the defensive end of the court. He’s healthier, his back is bothering him less, and it shows.

He is playing more and more like the guy the Lakers (and their fans) thought they were getting.

Once again in an interview, this time with Sam Amick of USA Today, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has Howard’s back. He says Howard played through a lot of pain in Los Angeles this year.

“I think he should get more credit for the reality of what has taken place,” Kupchak said. “Here’s a guy who didn’t have to come back. Forget whatever he needs (because of) this summer as a free agent, because doctors are going to say that after a year you’re going to be fine. But he came back because after a year he wanted to play and he wanted to win. And then he’s also had the torn labrum (in his right shoulder). I just thought he was getting unfairly criticized….

“I was surprised that he went through training camp and didn’t miss a practice,” Kupchak said. “I thought that maybe he would do some things on a side basket, and then he’d get in condition and we would maybe see him in December or January. I was surprised. I’m not sure he came back too early, but I think people expected too much, too soon.”

I think it was pretty clear he came back too soon. But part of it also was moments of a lack of effort, a clear frustration that he wasn’t getting his numbers, his touches, and he didn’t bring the same fire to the game.

Now, like all the Lakers, they seem to be starting to figure out an identity and how the pieces all fit together. They are not a great team by any means yet, but they are winning games they lost earlier in the season because they are executing better, playing their roles. They are starting to do the little things that are making them win games rather than blow leads and lose them.

As for Howard, he’ll get his max money this summer (most likely with the Lakers). And if he comes back and plays like the old, Orlando Howard all this will be forgotten by fans as he becomes the face of the franchise. His chance to define his legacy is still ahead of him, he just has to be serious enough to grab it and take advantage of it.

Seven questions that will shape Game 7 between Thunder, Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder defends against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter of game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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There are no more secrets. There are no major adjustments — at this point both teams know what they want to do and what the other team will try to do, it’s a simple matter of execution. Except it’s not going to be that simple. Here are seven questions that will shape the outcome of Game 7.

1) Are the Thunder moving the ball or relying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook too much in isolation? Don’t take my word for it that the past couple of games the Thunder have fallen back into bad habits, listen to coach Billy Donovan from after Game 6: “That hasn’t been us the last month and a half. Thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.” The Warriors are a good a defensive team — with good man defenders like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — and if you’re predictable you’re defendable. The Thunder have become predictable and isolation heavy, especially when games get tight. That works during the regular season — they have Westbrook and Durant after all — but they need to do better in Game 7. The Thunder must move the ball, the best barometer of that is whether Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson are getting touches and points. If so, the Thunder are much harder to guard and much more likely to win.

2) Are the Warriors’ threes falling?
Look at the Warriors’ shot chart from Game 6.

Warriors Game 6 shotchart

Golden State shot just 48.1 percent at the rim and were 2-of-16 from three feet to the arc. The Thunder blocked 10 shots and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — on a lot of levels did a lot of what they needed to do to win. The Warriors three-point shooting — particularly Klay Thompson and his record 11 threes — wiped that out. If Golden State is hitting from deep, they are next to impossible to beat. The Thunder need to chase Warriors’ shooters off the arc, then say a little prayer the Warriors don’t just keep hitting from deep anyway.

3) Which small ball lineup wins the battle? For most of this series, the Thunder had out Warriored the Warriors — Oklahoma City’s small lineups (where Durant plays the four) had outplayed Golden State’s small lineups. It seemed foolish to call the Warriors small ball lineups the “death” lineup, except that it was getting them killed. Golden State needs Andrew Bogut this series. That said, in Game 6 the death lineup — Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Green — was +12 in 11 minutes. It worked again. Both teams are going to go small for stretches, whichever team has more success doing so will have a huge leg up in this game.

4) Which team controls the glass? Oklahoma City is the naturally better rebounding team, arguably the best rebounding team in the NBA, with a big front line of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter (plus Westbrook is a great rebounder for his position, as is Roberson). However, in the Warriors three wins they are +4 total on the glass — they have either hung with or bested the Thunder on the boards. Golden State needs to have that rebounding focus again (while still finding a way to get out in transition) and limit the Thunder’s second chance points — if OKC can dominate the glass they will be flying to Cleveland for Game 1 Thursday.

5) What random role player steps up with a huge game? It’s a Game 7 tradition: Some player nobody expects ends up immune to the pressure and has a big game. Stars can get tight standing in this bright a spotlight, and role players can win the game for their team. Will it be Iguodala making it happen on both ends for the Warriors? Will it be Waiters knocking down threes? Will Shaun Livingston have the game of his life? Maybe it’s Kanter’s night. Somebody is going to step up.

6) Is Stephen Curry the MVP version of himself? Is Kevin Durant? In Game 6, Curry was just okay in the first half, and the Thunder were up by double digits and seemed in control of the game for much of the first 24 minutes. In the third quarter Curry scored 11 straight Warriors points in one stretch, then in the fourth he had a couple of key threes and had the ball in his hands making plays when the Warriors pulled ahead and won. That Curry needs to show up again, and not just for part of the game. Credit the Thunder defense for making Curry struggle — their smooth switching on defense with long and athletic players — has given him fits. But no defense can contain Curry when he’s on (and healthy, which I’m still not convinced he’s 100 percent).

Kevin Durant was 10-of-31 shooting in Game 6 — he was off, and like any shooter that did not stop him from firing away. That’s the mentality he needs to have, that also cannot happen in Game 7. The Thunder need the MVP Durant (and the good Westbrook) to fuel their offense — he has to be scoring, he has to be passing when the double comes, he has to play great defense. He has to be an MVP.

7) Can Oklahoma City get over the disappointment of not closing out the series at home? Game 6 was a punch to the gut of the Thunder. That was their chance to close out the Warriors at home, Oklahoma City controlled the game early but never could put Golden State away, then got beat in the fourth when Klay Thompson got hot and the Thunder became predictable. Durant said Sunday that if they enter the building Monday acting like it’s a funeral, they will lose. He’s right. But can they forget about Game 6 and get back to the things that got them a 3-1 series lead, or is their head still going to be in Sunday night, especially the first time something goes wrong?

Ticket prices for Thunder/Warriors Game 7 like Finals; someone paid $29,000 per courtside seat

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 18:  A fan waits in the stands prior to game two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 18, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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If you want to see Game 7 at Oracle Arena Monday night, hopefully you just sold your tech startup for a lot of cash. Or you run a hedge fund.

Just how hot a ticket is Game 7 between the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Golden State Warriors? These are hotter than recent NBA Finals tickets. The only game recently selling for more was Kobe Bryant‘s final game at Staples Center.

At secondary ticket seller StubHub, the cheapest tickets start $360 per seat — that’s for behind the basket at the top of the arena. Lower bowl behind the baskets is more like $850-$900 per seat, and if you want good seats near the floor the price is north of $5,000 per seat. Seatgeek.com

Over at Seatgeek.com the prices are in the same ballpark, if you want to be in the lower bowl on the side of the court the seats start at $2,300 and climb quickly.

The Warriors’ official ticket resale site is run by Ticketmaster — the idea is for the Warriors have more control over the secondary ticket market for their games, something StubHub sued over and is appealing a lower court decision to dismiss the case — had an even bigger sale, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.

The Warriors put the few remaining tickets on sale Sunday night, with prices ranging from $230 to $2,150. They sold out in less than five minutes.

Those prices did not include any floor seats, which were sold out. But someone did go to the Warriors’ resale site, run by Ticketmaster, and purchased two floor seats for $29,000 each.

TNT will broadcast the game for free (well, free if you have cable), and they will do monster numbers. Game 6 on Saturday night averaged 10.8 million viewers, the most of any playoff game this season, and this should crush that number.

 

Report: P.J. Carlesimo not joining Sixers staff despite mutual interest

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This week, the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, opening up a spot for a lead assistant on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia. Reports indicated that veteran coach P.J. Carlesimo was the frontrunner for the job, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that that isn’t happening.

So the Sixers’ search continues, and one would have to imagine that the Colangelos will be looking for a veteran, only fueling speculation that they aren’t quite sold on Brown long-term. It’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.

Warriors know Game 7 back home for Finals trip won’t be easy

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Stephen Curry #30 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors react in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors’ goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won’t matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

“I’ve learned that our players are tough, they’re mentally tough,” Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. “I don’t know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they’ve firmly confirmed that. It’s been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game.”

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered “We ain’t going home!” – and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors’ summer plans.

“We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we’ve got some momentum. But it can work in reverse,” Kerr said. “One game changes everything, and we’ve got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out.”

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday’s winner.

“It’s going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7’s going to be even tougher,” Curry said. “Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It’s win or go home. So we can’t expect just because we’re at home that we can just show up and win.”

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

“Lot of people probably counted us out,” Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

“This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We’ve got to take advantage of it,” Durant said Sunday. “Go up into their building, and it’s going to be great atmosphere. … No matter where you play, you’ve still got to play. That’s how we look at it.”

That’s partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

“We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game,” Donovan said. “We’re disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven’t lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they’re a resilient group.”

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

“I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go and give it everything I’ve got for Game 7.”