OAKLAND -- After more than a week in which there was the faint scent of smoke, we now see the flames, hear the crackling and feel the heat.

Temperatures in the Bay Area will reach the 90s on Thursday and, yet somehow, even after the sun sets, it will be appreciably hotter inside Oracle Arena.

When the Warriors and Denver Nuggets take the court for Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, it will be clear the evening will be as much about manhood as it is about basketball. As much about instincts and toughness as it is about making the right pass or putting the ball through the hoop.

As much about the Warriors defending their house as it is about protecting star guard Stephen Curry.

"I have a guy who has put himself in position to be on a national stage, and to get the recognition he deserves," coach Mark Jackson said before practice Wednesday. "If you're going to beat him, beat him being physical. I'm fine with that. Beat him by hitting him. But don't beat him with cheap shots. That has no place in basketball."

That's the spicy residue of Tuesday's Game 5, a back-alley brawl in Denver won by a Nuggets team facing elimination. The evening, particularly the continual harassment of Curry, left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of the Warriors -- and, no doubt, their emotionally charged fans.

And those fans, once again, will be a factor as the Warriors, with a 3-2 series advantage, seek to eliminate Denver.


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The crowd that unabashedly chants "M-V-P" when Curry is at the free-throw line will crank up the noise to even higher levels. The crowd that Nuggets coach George Karl refers to as being in the "top five" of unfriendly venues, will be downright hostile.

Jackson often stresses the importance of winning at home. Now he and his team will be right where they want to be for the most meaningful game of his two-year tenure.

The Warriors do not want to face the prospect of a third trip to Denver, with its thin air, for a Game 7 at Pepsi Center.

This is the game they have the best chance, perhaps the only logical chance, of winning and advancing to the second round for the first time since 2007.

"It's a big opportunity for us. We have to take advantage of it," Curry said. "If we come out and make good basketball plays, set the tone early, we should be in good shape. And not get caught up in the physicality, per se. That's not in line with our game."

Curry is right. Game 6 demands not that the Warriors push and shove or throw malevolent elbows and forearms. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Curry is too light in the backside to do much damage. The Warriors simply can't win that way, not against a bigger and deeper team such as the Nuggets.

This game absolutely requires that the Warriors stand their ground, own their turf and guard their most prized possession.

Jackson has done his part to alert the NBA and its referees. He saw Curry getting tripped and whacked. The coach also noted that his best player, one who drove the lane numerous times in Game 5, shot zero free throws.

Has the league yet received the video featuring Curry trying to run that Rocky Mountain obstacle course designed specifically for him?

Understand, though, that the scrapping in Game 5 was very mutual. Though the belligerence began 14 seconds after tipoff -- with Denver's 7-foot, 252-pound center, JaVale McGee, introducing his physique to the waifish Curry -- the Warriors got in their share of blows. Of particular note were brutish plays on Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, made by Warriors center Andrew Bogut and forward Draymond Green.

The play that scraped Jackson's skin, though, was Faried's first-quarter attempt to trip Curry, who stumbled but didn't fall. It was a subtle attack on Curry's weak ankles.

"It's not a basketball play to kick your foot out," Jackson said. "It's not a basketball play.

"Hey, they played more physical than us. That's fine. They won the ballgame. I just didn't agree with that play. That's not basketball, simple as that.

"You can see it. You don't have to tell me. If I go to the park to play 5-on-5 and somebody low-bridges me, nobody has to tell what's going on. I see what's going on."

What's going on that is a series that promised pretty and polite athleticism, the equivalent of basketball ballet, now has the steam and gravity and baleful stares of an Ali-era heavyweight title fight.

"We'll make the proper adjustments," Jackson vowed. "And look forward to (Thursday)."

So do the 20,000 souls eager to cram into the Screaming O. It's hot, about to get hotter.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.

Thursday's game
GAME 6
Warriors lead series 3-1
Denver at Warriors, 7:30 p.m., CSNBA, TNT

ONLINE EXTRAS
For more on the Warriors in the playoffs, go to WWW.mercurynews.com/warriors
Read Marcus Thompson's "Inside the Warriors" blog at WWW.ibabuzz.com/warriors