Lakers forward Pau Gasol, right, grabs a rebound in front of Denver'… (David Zalubowski / Associated…)
History can be made Saturday, but it has nothing to do with Kobe Bryant catching Michael Jordan. Quite the opposite.
The Denver Nuggets could become only the ninth team to complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. The Lakers are trying to avoid their second Game 7 home loss in their 64-year history.
The pressure is clearly on the Lakers, who won championships in 2009 and 2010 before flaming out in four games last season against Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals. They might not even get that far this year.
Bad omens are tricky to identify, but Andrew Bynum finished talking to a semicircle of reporters Friday and, noting the glare of one particularly searing TV camera light, squinted and muttered, "That's bright."
If the fingers of blame don't point squarely at Bynum, who started the series with a triple-double but had 11 points on four-for-11 shooting in Game 6, they easily find Pau Gasol, who was whisper-close to consecutive single-singles — a three-point, three-rebound dud in Game 6 was preceded by a droopy nine-point, 10-rebound effort.
Wasn't Gasol the one setting that hard but legal screen near the end of Game 4 that supposedly set the standard for a no-nonsense Lakers playoff run?
He is averaging 11.2 points and shooting an uncomprehendingly low 41% this series. Hint: He could use more touches closer to the basket.
"Most of my looks are from the outside," he said Friday. "When you take a little while to get a couple shots up, you're not getting into any rhythm. You don't make those, then you're kind of rushing. I've just got to continue to work, make sure I get open looks and try to knock them down as I do in practice every day and in warmups every day."
The Lakers haven't led the Nuggets in almost 95 minutes, since a 2-0 lead early in Game 5. The Nuggets have now actually outscored the Lakers this series, 590-578.
Metta World Peace has never been used in a knight/shining armor metaphor, but he returns Saturday from a seven-game suspension.
He played at a high level last month, averaging 16.3 points in Bryant's seven-game absence (sore shin) and dunking three times on Oklahoma City before throwing an ill-advised elbow at the head of James Harden. It's anybody's guess what he'll provide in a rushed return to the starting lineup. He hasn't seen game action in 20 days.
"We don't have much to lose, so we're going to play him," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
The Lakers were strong at home in the regular season, going 26-7, and looked fine after winning the first two games this series. Then they trailed by 15 in the fourth quarter of a 102-99 loss at Staples Center in Game 5.
Bryant had 43 that game and followed it up with 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting despite receiving two IV bags before Game 6 and another two at halftime because of dehydration from intestinal flu symptoms.
He was healthier Friday, saying he slept until 1 p.m., and even smiled when asked about playing another Game 7. He is 4-1 in them lifetime, most recently the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston.
"They're fun games," Bryant said. "Every possession counts even more so. It's a lot of energy in the building and teams play with a sense of desperation on every single possession. It's a fun game to be a part of."
It won't be very fun for him if the Lakers can't hit outside shots.
Matt Barnes is three of 24 from three-point range (12.5%) this series. Steve Blake helped win Game 4 with a late three-pointer but had a meager three points in Game 6.
Oh, for the days of Sasha Vujacic? And more recently, Derek Fisher.
If the Lakers win, they begin the West semifinals Monday against an Oklahoma City team coming off eight days of rest.
It sure beats the alternative.
If the Lakers lose Saturday, the Nuggets are the only team besides the 1969 Boston Celtics to beat them at home in a Game 7.
That would make for a long, if not gruesome, off-season.