It'll be a memorable night for the Lakers, for better or worse, with so many elements up for grabs, as if a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics needed to distinguish itself any further.
If the Lakers beat their hated rivals Thursday at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant collects a fifth championship ring, tying Magic Johnson and moving within one of Michael Jordan.
If Bryant can push them to one more victory, their 73rd and most important of the season, they'll earn a 16th championship trophy, one fewer than Boston, and take some sting out of their painful Finals loss two years ago to the Celtics.
If Pau Gasol can dominate down low without Kendrick Perkins there to clog the lane, Coach Phil Jackson can pick up an 11th championship and something else he has never done — a Game 7 victory in the NBA Finals. It will be Jackson's first attempt, and perhaps his only, if he decides later this month to retire from coaching.
Bryant, for his part, made his expectations well known ahead of Game 7, only the fifth of his 14-year career. Nothing less than a victory is acceptable.
"I've said the whole season, you don't win a championship, it's a failure," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Most Lakers saw it as the opportunity of a career, a chance to create long-lasting memories. Others will get ready by reflecting on what would happen if they lost Game 7.
Gasol said he would "think how bad and how much it would hurt if we don't come out as winners … just to understand that I have to do everything possible out there in order to help."
Bryant continued to be tightlipped, refusing to discuss the enthusiasm surrounding a Game 7 between the NBA's top two franchises, finally shedding a sliver of light on why he was so poker-faced after Wednesday's practice.
"In order for a rivalry to become official, the other team has to win," he said. "We haven't beaten the Celtics yet."
Official record-keeping would show otherwise, the Lakers beating Boston in 1985 and 1987, but Bryant was obviously considering the present-day state of the franchise, if not the Lakers' 0-4 record in Game 7s against the Celtics.
So much is at stake, with the chance to win two championships in a row, perhaps the start of a trend with Gasol and Bryant under contract through 2013-14.
On the other hand, there will be changes in as little as two weeks, with six free agents on the Lakers' roster, not including their coach, whose contract expires this month.
Jackson, for the record, said a victory Thursday would not influence his return either way. The 64-year-old will decide sometime before the June 24 NBA draft whether to come back to the Lakers for an 11th season. An on-court celebration Thursday and a parade a few days later would not be factors, if they were to occur at all.
"I can't make a decision on a snap type of thing like that," he said as he walked slowly to his car underneath Staples Center. "It's a natural thing to say, 'I want to come back for No. 3 [in a row],' but I have to do the things I have to do before making that decision. I have to let it happen in the natural course of events."
The Lakers and Celtics have issues with their big men, the Celtics definitely going without Perkins while the Lakers hope to milk as much as they can out of Andrew Bynum.
Perkins arrived for practice Wednesday on black metal crutches, the beefy last line of defense for the Celtics ruled out of Game 7 because of what he said were partially torn ligaments in his right knee.
"He's not going to go," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said.
It poses a problem for the Celtics, undeniably. Perkins' unexpected absence early in Game 6 allowed Gasol to outrebound Boston by himself in the first quarter, 6-5.
Bryant and Gasol will test the middle often against Boston's decisively less-physical backup center, Rasheed Wallace, who missed all seven of his shots in Game 6 and has taken almost as many three-point attempts (51) as two-point field goals (63) in the playoffs.
The Celtics are also trying to recover from their lowest point total ever in a Finals game, their 89-67 loss a surprisingly one-sided setback for a team that looked stronger and more physical in winning Games 4 and 5 in Boston.
But the Celtics are not alone in questions about injuries and effectiveness.
The Lakers are privately concerned about how much time they can get out of Bynum, who asked out of Game 6 early in the third quarter because he could not bend his swollen right knee.
The knee has been drained twice this month and now has fluid collecting on the back side of it, though the 22-year-old remains unwavering. "I'm definitely going to play," he said. "It hurts. I need to get surgery done. But I'm going to hold off."
The Lakers are hoping the resurgence of their reserves wasn't a one-game wonder and they'd like to see an equal amount of hustle from Lamar Odom, who finally broke through with an active, effective Game 6.
So much will be riding on one game.
"Historic, when you're talking about these organizations and these teams, what they stand for, the pride," Odom said.
The losers are forgotten. History is kinder to the winners.
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