Atlanta Hawks Smith reacts as the Indiana Pacers West walks across the court in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff NBA basketball game in Atlanta

Four Game 6s, who is most likely to force Game 7?


This is going to be one wild night in the NBA — four first-round Game 6 showdowns.

Four games where a team’s season hangs in the balance, and another has the chance to close out and advance to the second round.

Who is most likely to force a Game 7?

Let’s break it on down, in order of most to least likely to be playing one more game.

1) Atlanta Hawks (over Indiana Pacers in Atlanta). I know you haven’t watched this series but as someone who has suffered through every minute of it, let me tell you the Hawks are going to win this game. Because these two teams are Jekyll and Hyde on the road/at home — every game in this series has been won by at least 11 points by the home team — and the Hawks are home for Game 6. Look for Josh Smith to have another big game, getting points in transition and attacking, and expect Jeff Teague to come out and play much better (Al Horford will be a rock as always). Indiana is the better team in this series, they made some adjustments that worked very well in Game 5 (forcing Smith to cover Paul George handling the ball in the pick-and-roll, for one) but I question if they can execute that on the road.

2) Houston Rockets (over Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston). The Thunder are the better team in this series, but they have not had time to adjust their game to life without Russell Westbrook. Boston has had its moments without Rajon Rondo where the offense flowed, but they had time to figure that out in the regular season, to experiment with lineups and what worked. Scott Brooks and the Thunder have had none of that; they have the Rockets wisely overloading the defense on Kevin Durant and daring anyone else to beat them. The Thunder can win — Kevin Martin is fully capable of lighting it up for a night — but the Rockets will be hard to close out at home where you can expect James Harden and Chandler Parsons to put up points.

3) Boston Celtics (over New York Knicks in Boston). This is all about Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks — they are the better team in this series, but they have gotten away from what makes them better. During their regular season win streak the Knicks were moving the ball strong-to-weak like the Heat and Spurs. But in this series they have gone back to isolation basketball — in the regular season the Knicks averaged 15 isolation sets a game (higher than the league average of 10), but against the Celtics that has jumped to 26 a game, according to ESPN’s stats and research people. The Celtics Thibodeau-inspired defense overloads the strong side and will shut down isolation plays. The Celtics will play hard, they will defend, and at home they could get a big game from Jeff Green from them. Could. But if Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith move the ball the Knicks can and should win. If not, they are playing on Sunday.

4) Los Angeles Clippers (over Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis). It’s hard to see this series reaching a Game 7 unless Blake Griffin’s sprained ankle has made a miraculous recovery. The Clippers need to find a way to slow down the force that is Zach Randolph and without a 100 percent Griffin I don’t see how they do that. Sure, the Clippers can try to open the game up by going small for extended stretches — Matt Barnes at the four — but the Grizzlies invite that kind of floor chaos. They pick you apart when you do it. The Clippers will need to play the best defense of this series and they will have to get a monster game out of DeAndre Jordan against Marc Gasol to win this. On the road. Chris Paul will do everything he can, but it’s probably not going to be enough.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.