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Lakers, Celtics know what's at stake in Game 7 of NBA Finals

LOS ANGELES — It'll be a memorable night for the Lakers, for better or worse.

If they beat the Celtics Thursday at the Staples Center, Kobe Bryant collects a fifth championship ring, tying Magic Johnson and moving within one of Michael Jordan.

The Lakers' 73rd win of the season would 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 made his expectations well known. 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 see Game 7 as the opportunity of a career, a chance to create long-lasting memories. Yet others will get ready by reflecting on what would happen if they lost it.

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 refused to discuss the enthusiasm surrounding a Game 7 between the NBA's top two franchises but shed light on why he was so poker-faced after Saturday'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."

The Lakers beat Boston in 1985 and 1987, but Bryant obviously was considering the present-day state of the franchise, if not the Lakers' 0-4 record in Game 7s against the Celtics.

For the Lakers, 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.

Bryant and Gasol will test the middle often against Boston's decisively less-physical backup center, Rasheed Wallace, who replaces the injured Perkins.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to recover from their lowest point total in a Finals game, their 89-67 loss a surprisingly one-sided setback for a team looking stronger and more physical in winning Games 4 and 5 in Boston.

mbresnahan@tribune.com

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