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NBA features two Game 7s Sunday between teams that have experienced both ends of blowouts

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DENVER (AP) — Denver coach Michael Malone calls them “the two greatest words in sports.”

Game 7.

The NBA has two of them Sunday, and all four teams — the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Knicks and Pacers — have experienced both ends of blowouts in their otherwise scintillating semifinal series.

In the East, Indiana prevailed by 32 points in Game 4 only to watch New York return the favor with a 30-point shellacking in Game 5.

Out West, the Wolves cruised to a 26-point win at Denver in Game 2 before losing Game 3 by 27 points. Then came Game 6, where the Timberwolves staved off elimination by beating the Nuggets by a whopping 45 points.

How is it that a series featuring two teams so evenly matched can produce so many lopsided results?

“Good question,” Malone said Saturday. “To your point, our regular season was 2-2 and the playoffs it’s 3-3. I think if we played that team 100 times it would be 50-50. You just have two really talented teams. Depending on the day, who gets hot and who’s making shots” is the one that prevails.

And in a big way, like the Wolves’ 115-70 beatdown in Game 6

“But as far as the three blowouts in six games, that’s a tough one to explain,” Malone said. “But I do not expect that to happen tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a tremendous Game 7.”

No Western Conference team was better than the Nuggets at home — 33-8 — in the regular season, but the Wolves won the first two games of the series in Denver.

Maybe homecourt won’t really matter Sunday.

“I’d rather play at home than on the road,” Malone said.

So would the Knicks.

Like the Nuggets, New York played all its regulars down the stretch in the regular season in its quest to secure the homecourt at least through Round 2.

“It’s definitely something we fought for, to have home-court advantage for as long as we can throughout the playoffs,” said Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson.

Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton is embracing the villain role at Madison Square Garden.

“Now it’s a one-game series and it’s for all the marbles, and where better to have a Game 7 than the Garden?” Haliburton said. “So I’m really excited about it, our group is excited to get the opportunity to compete. We haven’t won a game there yet, no team has won a game on the road in this series, so we’ve got to be ready to go from start to finish for 48 minutes.”

Wolves superstar Anthony Edwards has a similar mindset heading to Denver.

“They’re the defending champs, so it’s going to be super tough. … It’s going to be super loud,” he said. “But I feel like as a competitor it’s like one of the best feelings in the world.”

PACERS AT KNICKS

Tied, 3-3. Game 7, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC

— NEED TO KNOW: The Knicks and Pacers will play each other in a Game 7 for the third time. New York won 94-90 in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, and Indiana avenged that loss the following year with a 97-95 victory in the East semis. Both games were at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks have won all three games in this series. The winner this time gets a quick turnaround before Game 1 in Boston on Tuesday.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Knicks’ energy level. Undermanned and overworked, New York was terrible with a short turnaround from a Friday night Game 3 to a Sunday afternoon tip for Game 4 last weekend, falling behind 34-14 after one quarter en route to a 121-89 loss. It’s the same short turnaround now from Game 6 to Game 7 — only this time with travel from Indiana back to New York.

— INJURY WATCH: After Josh Hart appeared in discomfort multiple times before leaving Game 6 early with an abdominal strain, the Knicks listed him as questionable to play Sunday. They also upgraded OG Anunoby to questionable after he missed the last four games with a strained left hamstring. If they can’t play, the Knicks would be without five key players, with Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson and Bojan Bogdanovic already lost.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Brunson. With five 40-point games, he has already had a memorable postseason. He might need one more Sunday to keep it from ending for the Knicks.

TIMBERWOLVES AT NUGGETS

Tied, 3-3. Game 7, 8 p.m. ET, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Wolves have held the Nuggets to the two lowest point totals in the NBA playoffs this year, with a 106-80 romp on the road in Game 2 and the 115-70 beatdown at home in Game 6. The Nuggets are 3-1 in Game 7s in the playoffs with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. This game will be played on the 20th anniversary of Minnesota’s win in Game 7 over Sacramento to reach the Western Conference finals, the only other year in the franchise’s 35 seasons the Wolves have advanced past the first round.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jokic. The Nuggets will rely hard on their hulking Serbian superstar after the rest of the team shot just 17 for 67 for a woeful 25% in Game 6. The Wolves had no answers for him in Game 5 when he racked up 40 points and 13 assists without a turnover.

— INJURY WATCH: Murray blamed his 4-for-18 shooting performance on his banged-up right elbow courtesy of a Rudy Gobert screen. Asked about Murray on Saturday, coach Michael Malone said, “He feels great. He was able to go through all of practice.” For the Wolves, Anthony Edwards landed hard on his tailbone during a drive to the basket in Game 6, but after gingerly getting up he didn’t miss any time.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets’ forward is shooting just 3 for 15 from 3-point range in this series, and the Nuggets need the Porter who dominated the Lakers in the first round to show up Sunday.

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With contributions from AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney and AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer

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