Miami Heat's James goes to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant during Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Oklahoma City

2012 NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: Five things to watch

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With the Heat and Thunder knotted at 1-1, the NBA Finals resume Sunday night for the latest in a series of “pivotal” games. Both sides have accomplished some things in the first two games beyond just the one win, and both have established challenges they’ll have to overcome. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

1. A Bully In the Schoolyard: LeBron James went to work inside in Game 2. 18 of his 20 points off of field goals came from shots in the paint, with more coming on fouls drawn inside on post-shots and drives. The Thunder adapted well in the fourth quarter, sending multiple defenders at James on the pick and roll but they haven’t figured out a solution for the post yet. They can double, but James is such a good passer, you’re risking giving up a high percentage look. They have to get James discouraged with his post play to the point he abandons it, or swarm him to force turnovers. One thing that will not work is guarding him one-on-one with Kevin Durant. Durant just doesn’t have the size to counter James’ brute strength.

2. Living On The Line: For all the complaints about the officiating in Game 2, the Thunder had one more free throw. Both of these teams are drawing a lot of fouls. If the officials stop calling things, that’s going to favor the Heat, with their more physical approach and experience against Boston. But if the perimeter calls increase, that’s a good thing for Oklahoma City, who can eat you alive with free throw attempts.

3. Something Inside: Kendrick Perkins is getting killed this series. In every game, it’s a battle between what Perkins can provide on defense and what having him on the floor sacrifices inside. Unfortunately, in this series, it’s been damaging on both ends. But Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison have struggled as well. The Thunder need to attack Udonis Haslem who’s been having a hard time in the playoffs finishing plays with blown catches, and who gives up some length and size. The Thunder have to get contributions from the bigs on both ends or they’re sunk. They cannot lose the battle down low.

4. Late Beard Assault: James Harden was severely limited in the 4th quarter of Game 2 after keeping the Thunder alive offensively in the first half. Getting him more looks is important, because he’s one of their only real playmakers. Harden creates opportunities for other players, including the superstars with open looks, and is able to knock down contested shots. He can’t be frozen out, even for Westbrook and Durant. More plays have to be run with him as intiator.

5. Glass Houses. The Heat got back on the rebounding battle in Game 2, but it’s still an area of difficulty for them. Chris Bosh has to have double-digit rebounds and Dwyane Wade needs to contribute as well. They’re a guard-rebounding team, and they have to stick to that. Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf have been frozen out of this series and with Erik Spoelstra rarely making changes once he sets plans for a series, its’ clear they want to stick with the small-ball approach. That means more of an emphasis on the Big 3. Like that’s something they need.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: