By John Schmeelk
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You know how the old expression goes: there’s no real motivation to negotiate unless something you really don’t want to lose is at stake.

No one really cared about losing preseason basketball games. Not even the owners, who make substantial money on those games.

Apparently, no one took the cancellation of the first two weeks of the regular season seriously either, since it’s pretty obvious those games could still be made up in some way, shape or form.

Now, however, real games are at stake.

Both sides understand that if a deal is not struck by the end of the weekend, then more games will be canceled. Games that can’t be made up. That means owners will have to refund the money spent on tickets and players won’t get paid for them either. We’re talking lost revenue that both sides would try to make up in a deal, making labor peace harder to come by.

There is also the incalculable cost to the popularity and reputation of the league that would come with losing regular season games. Fans don’t care if there are no preseason games, but for every regular season game that is lost there is a hit. Many would argue that the casual fan wouldn’t even notice unless the lockout lasted until Christmas — but there’s really no way to tell.

I doubt either side would like to take that sort of chance.

That’s why the time to make a deal is now, and judging by the words of both David Stern and Billy Hunter at their press conferences Thursday night, they know that too. All the animosity and accusations from last week have been left behind, and at least from the outside looking in, both seem willing to make that final move necessary to seal a deal.

Friday is when the two sides will either get over the crest or start rolling downhill toward an extended lockout.

Whether that happens seems to depend on whether the two sides will be able to meet in the middle on the split of BRI (Basketball Related Income).  Right now the owners sit at a 50-50 split, while the players are still demanding a 52.5 percent share of the pie. Some media outlets are reporting the two sides will meet in the middle at about 51.5 percent, which seems plausible. It would also be a significant move for the owners, perhaps getting the players to offer a significant concession on a luxury tax issue that doesn’t seem to be fully solved.

We’ll see Friday. By Saturday morning, everyone will know whether the NBA will play an 82-game season or not. It won’t be done, but the momentum will be clear.

Right now, I’ll give a 50 percent chance the NBA plays a full season, and 80 percent that there will be games in 2011. That leaves a 20 percent shot of there being no season at all or no games until January.

Right now I feel pretty good, and most basketball fans should feel that way too.

You can follow me on twitter at!/Schmeelk for everything on the NBA lockout, Giants, Knicks — and a little bit of everything else.

Will a deal be struck by Sunday night? Sound off on the lockout in the comments below…

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