Kawhi Leonard ,LeBron James

Three match-ups to watch closely when Heat take on Spurs in NBA Finals

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Playoffs series are all about match-ups — can you get a favorable one, exploit it and gain an edge. Can you force a player into something he doesn’t do well — drag a slow-footing big man out to defend the pick-and-roll, or post up a smaller defender and pound him with size.

The team that can win the key match-ups in a series usually wins.

Miami and San Antonio are in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night in part because they create and exploit mismatches better than most. The Spurs do it through system, the Heat because LeBron James is a walking mismatch.

Here are three match-ups to watch in these Finals.

LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. This is the one in the spotlight — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have their moments but LeBron James doesn’t just drive the Miami bus, it is his bus. Last Finals Kawhi Leonard had success on LeBron by going under every pick, playing back and daring him to take jump shots, and that carried over to the team’s two regular season meetings — LeBron was 5-of-22 outside the restricted area in those two games. Also this regular season, Miami scored 87.9 points per 100 possessions when Leonard was on the court and 114.5 when he sat. In Game 7 of the Finals last season LeBron took 20-of-23 shots outside the paint — he’s going to hit some, LeBron is good like that, but he’s the best finisher at the rim in the game. Better to have him fire away from the outside if you are the Spurs. Watch where LeBron is shooting from in this series.

[MORE: Five things that are different in this rematch]

Danny Green vs. Dwyane Wade. Another matchup where the Heat had some success last season, although that speaks more to the state of Dwyane Wade’s knees at the time than some magical defensive formula. When Wade was on the court in the 2013 Finals (254 minutes) the Spurs were +10.2 per 48 minutes, when he sat the Heat were +27.4 per 48 (just 86 minutes). Dwyane Wade is moving and playing much better these playoffs, shooting 51 percent, and he is more aggressive in getting to the rim. The Spurs will try to make him a jump shooter as well, but he will put more pressure on them this year. On the other end, Danny Green has been huge for the Spurs offense with his ability to hit threes and the Spurs are +15.2 per 100 possessions when he is on the court these playoffs. Remember he hit seven three pointers in one Finals game last season, the Heat need to track him better.

Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan. Bosh will be one of the biggest keys for the Heat at both ends of the court and he is going to have to have a big Finals for the Heat to threepeat. On offense, he had two monster regular season games against San Antonio, scoring 24 in each on a combined 19-of-26 shooting. His ability to pull Duncan away from the basket defensively and defend the arc will open up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. On the other end, the Spurs are going to make Bosh defend the pick-and-roll and he has to cut off Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili’s path into the paint — when those two get in the lane they can break down any defense, Bosh has to slow them at the point of attack. But he just can’t focus on them, Duncan averaged 23 points a game in the two regular season meetings this season and was knocking down midrange shots as well, plus exploiting some post up opportunities. If Duncan is abusing Bosh it will force Spoelstra to change lineups early.

DeMar DeRozan powers Raptors past Trail Blazers, 112-106

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles against the Boston Celtics  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 23, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, Serge Ibaka added 18 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 on Sunday night.

The Raptors won their third in a row and wrapped up a second straight season sweep of Portland. They previously had beaten the Trail Blazers 95-91 in Portland on Dec. 26.

Damian Lillard scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers, who got 18 from Maurice Harkless.

Up 98-96 with 4:41 remaining, the Raptors scored the next six points, with back-to-back jump shots from Ibaka and a pair of free throws from DeRozan putting them up by eight with 3:16 remaining.

The Trail Blazers answered with six straight converted free throws sandwiched around a three-point play from Cory Joseph, before Lillard drove on Ibaka and converted the layup to cut the lead to 107-104 with 1:42 to play.

But DeRozan scored the next four points, hitting a jump shot and two free throws to put the Raptors up by seven with 30 seconds to play.

In a back-and-forth first quarter featuring 11 lead changes, Portland took control, overcoming 12 points from DeRozan to emerge with a 28-25 edge after 12 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu led the way for the Trail Blazers in the second with nine points as they extended their advantage to 12 points with 4:52 to play in the half. But the Raptors shot 61 percent in the period and went on a 15-2 run to close out the quarter and head into halftime lead 53-52.

Toronto scored the first six points of the third quarter to extend its lead, but Lillard had 10 points in the period to the Trail Blazers stay close. They retook the lead with 1:47 to play, before the Raptors surged back to enter the fourth up 82-80.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: G Evan Turner and C Festus Ezeli (left knee) did not play.

Raptors: G Kyle Lowry (right wrist) missed the game. Joseph made just his third start of the season in his place. . Toronto has now completed season sweeps against five teams this season (Brooklyn, Denver, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers).

LACK OF LOWRY

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Lowry’s sore right wrist was assessed over the weekend and it was still structurally sound.

“The images weren’t significant, there was no significant showing,” he said. “So it’s going to be day-to-day, treated symptomatically. Swelling’s gone down, so that’s a good sign. So we’ll see. He’ll be a day-to-day thing. It wasn’t broken, so that helps.”

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Detroit on Tuesday looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the Pistons.

Raptors: Visit New York on Monday aiming for a sixth straight win over the Knicks.

Late 5-point possession lifts Celtics over Pistons 104-98

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. 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.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn’t come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Detroit went 16 of 35 from the line, while the Celtics were 24 of 30.

The Pistons rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit and led 96-95 when Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining. That gave the Celtics a chance to take the lead, and Brown capitalized.

HONORED

The Pistons retired Richard Hamilton’s No. 32 during a halftime ceremony attended by several other players from Detroit’s 2004 championship team.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 43 straight games. … Boston led 54-50 at halftime and began the third quarter with a 13-2 run. … The Celtics were without G Avery Bradley, who was out with a sore right Achilles tendon.

Pistons: Detroit recalled forward Henry Ellenson and guards Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije from the team’s Grand Rapids affiliate in the D-League. They did not play.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

Pistons: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Russell Westbrook scores 41 in triple-double as Thunder top Pelicans (VIDEO)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook scored 41 points in his 29th triple-double of the season to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-110 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 21 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 7 for 19 from the field the first three quarters and was 7 for 10 in the fourth. He also had 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the 66th triple-double of his career.

Enes Kanter had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Steven Adams added 13 points and 10 boards for the Thunder, who won their third straight.

Anthony Davis scored 38 points and DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he played just 22 minutes and fouled out while getting dunked on by Westbrook. The Pelicans fell to 0-3 since acquiring Cousins in a trade with Sacramento.

Mike Conley scores 31 as Grizzlies beat Nuggets 105-98

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DENVER (AP) Mike Conley scored 31 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and the Memphis Grizzles held off the Denver Nuggets 105-98 on Sunday.

Zach Randolph finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis, which snapped a two-game skid. Marc Gasol chipped in 23 points and found his mark from long range by hitting three 3-pointers.

The Grizzlies have now won four straight in Denver – an intriguing run, considering they’re just 9-32 all-time in the Mile High City.

Danilo Gallinari had 24 points as Denver dropped to 0-12 this season when failing to reach the 100-point plateau.

The Grizzlies outscored the Nuggets 21-13 in second-chance points and outrebounded them by a 49-39 margin. What’s more, Memphis finished 22 of 25 from the free throw line.

Before the game, Memphis coach David Fizdale talked about needing someone outside the usual cast to step up down the stretch.

Once again, though, Conley raised his hand – and game. He gave the Grizzlies the lead for good on a pair of free throws with 7:54 remaining, the start of a 7-0 run that gave them some separation.

Nikola Jokic was more assertive after back-to-back shaky performances. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Jokic has indicated he’s feeling drained. Nuggets coach Michael Malone understands, but said everyone in the league is worn out this time of year.

“The great players and the great teams find a way to fight through it and get their second wind and get ready for the postseason,” said Malone, whose team is narrowly holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. “I hope that’s what our guys can do.”

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: G/F Vince Carter picked up a technical late in the second quarter. … F/C Brandan Wright isn’t with the team for personal reasons. … F JaMychal Green had 10 rebounds.

Nuggets: All five starters scored in double figures. … F Kenneth Faried didn’t play due to a sore lower back. … Denver recalled rookie G Malik Beasley from Sioux Falls of the NBA Development League. He didn’t play Sunday. … C Roy Hibbert was in uniform after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline. He didn’t get into the game.

NEW ROLE

Emmanuel Mudiay has dealt with a troublesome back, inconsistent play and now a demotion. Usually a starter since being taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, he’s backing up Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson.

“My message to him is this is not set in stone,” Malone said. “A lot of things can change – continue to work and continue to stay ready.”

UP NEXT

Grizzlies: Host Phoenix on Tuesday as Memphis tries to complete the season sweep of the Suns.

Nuggets: Open a two-game road swing Tuesday in Chicago.