Who's got the staying power?

While Game 7 is one of the most magical phrases in sports, Game 6 is the elimination game that comes first.

Speaking of elimination, that's what the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers face on Thursday night. What's more, a loss by Orlando would put the Magic just one season away from potential free agency for Dwight Howard, and the same goes for the Hornets and Chris Paul.

Seen in that light, Thursday night is the biggest night of the season so far.

Let's cut to the chase:

1. Fact or Fiction: The Hornets will force a Game 7 with the Lakers.

LZ Granderson, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. The only reason the Hornets haven't been swept is because Chris Paul shot lights out in the Hornets' two wins, scoring 33 and 27 points in Games 1 and 4. But, scoring-wise, 2010-11 was Paul's worst regular season since he was a rookie, and he scored 30 only once in the entire regular season. Two times in two weeks? Not gonna happen.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Fact. Historically, the Kobe-Pau Lakers win this game; they've closed four series in road Game 6's since 2008. But efficient scoring from all five starters, like the Los Angeles Lakers got Tuesday, has come to seem like the exception, not the rule. Monty Williams may have to find wildlife footage that tops the wildebeest attack he showed them before Game 4 (here's my suggestion).

Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Fact. Kobe Bryant will be looking to finish the Hornets, possibly unbalancing the Lakers' attack in the process. Anything that keeps the ball away from the Lakers' frontcourt players is a bonus for the Hornets. Chris Paul and the New Orleans crowd should be able to coax a strong performance from the supporting cast and keep themselves alive.

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. This has been fun, but let's face it: The Lakers beat the Hornets with Bryant on one ankle. The Lakers do this every year. They screw around with a team, then eventually have to start trying and conquer. It's possible they slack off, but if they assert themselves, it's over. Good on the Hornets for making them earn it.

Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction. Kobe Bryant's invigorating performance in Game 5 on an allegedly injured ankle has the Lakers smelling blood. They'll take care of business against the Hornets, even in New Orleans, now that their sense of urgency has kicked in. Only a superhuman performance from Chris Paul could send the series back to Los Angeles.

2. Fact or Fiction: The Blazers will force a Game 7 with the Mavs.

LZ Granderson, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. It's a four-point-play miracle there is even a Game 6. I think Nate McMillian has done a great job, once again, keeping his injured squad competitive. But you can't depend on Brandon Roy to come close to his Game 4 heroics, and the Blazers just don't have the consistent firepower outside of LaMarcus Aldridge right now to keep pace.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Fact. Portland is a really tough place for visitors to clinch a tight series. In elimination games occurring in Game 5 or later (so, sweeps excluded), the Blazers are 6-2 since 1980. Factor in the collective buzz of the Blazer faithful coming off the Brandon Roy Miracle Game and Monday's Patty Mills body-check, and the Rose Garden should feel like Thunderdome.

Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Fiction. Brandon Roy's memorable Game 4 has obscured the fact that this series really hasn't been that close. The Blazers appeared to have a collection of personnel capable of causing the Dallas Mavericks problems all over the floor. Unfortunately, those advantages haven't materialized. Barring another epic individual performance, I think the Mavericks' balanced attack outlasts the Blazers.

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. The 2007-era Brandon Roy isn't walking through that door ... again. The Rose Garden is an incredible environment. But were it not for Doc Brown and the DeLorean, this thing would be over already. Dallas is obviously capable of collapses like what happened in Game 4 once in a series. Not twice. The Mavs are just better.

Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction. As sad as it may be to say, Brandon Roy's explosive fourth quarter in Game 4 was an anomaly. With its zone defense in Game 5, Dallas exposed that the Blazers do not have the outside shooting to contend with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and the Mavericks' abundance of shooters. Expect Rick Carlisle to go to Dirk early and often in a Mavs Game 6 win.

3. Fact or Fiction: The Magic will force a Game 7 with the Hawks.

LZ Granderson, ESPN The Magazine: Fact. Joe Johnson is a nice guy, but any squad depending on him to come up big in a closeout game is in trouble. What did he do last game, five points and three boards? Last year against the Bucks, dude scored eight in Game 7, and he shot 9-for-30 in the final two games against the Celtics in 2008.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Fiction. The Magic shot the Hawks out of Amway Center in Game 5, aided by Larry Drew's curious decision to sit Kirk Hinrich, his strongest defensive guard, for much of the decisive first half. Buoyed by a revved-up crowd and the triumphant homecoming of psuedo-headbutter Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks recapture their aggressive defense in Game 6, closing out on shooters and the series.

Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Fact. Jamal Crawford's jump shot has come back to Earth, just as outside shots have started falling for the Magic. It will take a significant amount of mental toughness to finish off the Magic, but mental toughness and the Hawks have been arch-enemies the past few seasons. In short, I like the Magic's brand of chaos a lot more than the Hawks'.

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. I'm sorry, but you'd like me to put faith in the Atlanta Hawks? Larry Drew's Atlanta Hawks? The Hawks had their chance to slam the door shut, and instead they allowed the perimeter flood gates to open in Orlando. Faith no more in Atlanta.

Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: Fact. What looked to be a disturbing trend showed signs of changing for the better in Game 5, as the Magic finally started hitting some perimeter shots. Dwight Howard can't do it alone, and even though the Hawks have an advantage in being able to single cover him, Orlando shooters' success is a barometer for the Magic. Consistent with the law of averages, the Magic will push it to seven.

4. Fact or Fiction: Dwight Howard should sign an extension with Orlando.



LZ Granderson, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. The only way D12 re-signs with the Magic is if Chris Paul calls him up and says, "Dude, stay put, I'm coming." And even then, he might ask, "Who else you bringing?" That's assuming he's still in Orlando. If they get off to a slow start next season, Magic personnel may move him instead of lose him for nothing in the summer.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Fiction. Aside from Florida's tax advantages, what's the argument for staying? He's surrounded by a roster that might have been formidable in 2007, entirely lacking in promising young talent with All-Star upside. Assuming Andrew Bynum's knees stay unexploded, I look forward to Howard joining forces with Deron Williams and insta-legitimizing the Brooklyn Nets in 2012.

Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Fiction. The word "should' makes this a difficult question to answer. From a writer's or fan's perspective, this is as a business decision. From a player's perspective, it's a life decision. I would love to see Howard stay in Orlando, but he should ultimately decide based on what will be best for him and his family.

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. You want to be an all-time player? You want to win a championship? Be the building block of the franchise. Otis Smith has shown he's willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Bail and you're just another attention-seeking bandwagon jumper. It's his right to leave. Doesn't mean he should.

Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction. Assuming that his priority is winning, that is. The first round of the playoffs have demonstrated the Magic don't have the pieces to put around Howard to compete for a championship anymore. Unless the Magic can make a significant move in the next year, it will be an easy decision for Howard to test free agency in the summer of 2012. In fact, the Magic might see that coming and preempt him with a sign-and-trade.

5. Fact or Fiction: Chris Paul should sign an extension with New Orleans.



LZ Granderson, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. The only way Chris Paul re-signs with the Hornets is if D12 calls and says ... nevermind. D12 ain't calling. In fact, nobody's calling, which is why CP3, if winning's the top priority for him, is going to sign with a different franchise. He sees the landscape shifting to power teams and he's smart enough to know he can't do it alone.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Fiction. Traditionally, pure pass-first point guards prefer to play with guys that they can, you know, pass to. That's not these Hornets, who have pushed the Lakers thus far with more grit than skill. Paul has done it all in these playoffs, but the bet here is that he'd like to be someplace where he doesn't have to.

Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Fiction. This is essentially the same situation as Howard's. Paul not signing an extension with New Orleans could be a devastating blow to the community and organization. As a fan of parity, I'd love to see Paul decide to stay where he is. Still, I can't hold it against him if he decides he's better off somewhere else.

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. You just had your most successful season since 2007-08 in the first season under new coaching and new management, and you lost your best teammate down the stretch. But the situation in New Orleans is unstable and there were swoons this season. Paul should wait to see how things go in his final season.

Danny Savitzky, Nets Are Scorching: Fiction. The team's next-best option suffered a troubling knee injury and will be 31 before next season begins -- and even that assumes he won't bolt this summer in free agency. Aside from David West, the Hornets don't have much offensive firepower. There are a number of better supporting casts out there in need of a floor general (such as the Knicks, maybe). It's time for Paul to trade in the jalopy for a shiny new sports car.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Jordan Heimer, Ian Levy, Matt Moore and Danny Savitzky write for the TrueHoop Network.
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