In Game 7, can Lakers finally answer questions haunting them?

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It’s a do-or-die Game 7, but the questions are the same ones we had before Game 1.

Can the Nuggets get the Lakers to play their up-tempo, scattered game? Can anyone on the Lakers stop Ty Lawson? Can the Lakers slow the game down, pound the ball inside to their big men and use their size and skill? Maybe the biggest of all, will the Lakers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol play with passion or coast through the game and their defensive assignments?

We have a lot more context for those questions now, but it is Saturday night we will get the answers.

Home teams win 8 out of 10 Game 7s, and the Lakers as a franchise have won 10 straight home Game 7s. I don’t care. Those games don’t impact this one.

What it does point to is that role players tend to play better at home and in a game where everyone can be a little tight that level of comfort can be the difference. Remember the last Game 7 the Lakers were in, against the Boston Celtics in the 2011 NBA finals? Who was the Lakers best player that game? Ron Artest. The one guy with the mentality not to be bothered by such things as pressure and nerves.

Artest is now Metta World Peace and the Lakers get him back for this game, following his seven-game suspension for elbowing the Thunder’s James Harden in the head. Having him back will be huge for the Lakers because of the energy and passion he brings — so long as he stays within the offensive system and doesn’t try to take it over.

For the Lakers, that is the key — work inside out. Get Bynum and Gasol going early and focused, Denver does not have anyone who can match up with them.

That does not mean no Kobe — if anything, the Lakers need Kobe on the court more. As Forum Blue and Gold noted, when Kobe is on the bench the Lakers have shot 38.3 percent and just 20 percent from three. Their offense stagnates and is defendable. The Lakers cannot afford that kind of stretch.

We know what we’re going to get from Denver — effort and passion. They are going to play hard. Danilo Gallinari is a hard matchup for any team, Andre Miller has played his best ball in recent memory (PER of 21.6 in the playoffs) and Kenneth Faried is everything the Lakers are not. Their only wild card, and the guy that could be the difference is JaVale McGee. When he has played well Denver has won as they balance out the Lakers advantage inside.

You know the Nuggets will bring it. The question that remains to be answered is will the Lakers?

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.