Spurs look to strengthen playoff position vs. Celtics

The Boston Celtics are in the stretch run for a guaranteed spot in the NBA playoffs and look to strengthen their position when they host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

The Celtics leaned heavily on Jaylen Brown (38 points) and Jayson Tatum (35) in a 120-111 home win over Charlotte on Wednesday that allowed them to stay just ahead of Miami via tiebreakers for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The top six teams in each conference avoid the league’s play-in tournament.

Wednesday’s win allowed the Celtics (33-30) to snap a three-game losing streak. Boston has won just twice in its six games after a six-game winning streak earlier in the month.

“That’s what it’s all about — turning it up a notch, hitting the next level,” Brown said about playing better down the stretch. “Season’s on the line, you’ve got to play with that urgency. It’s a part of my responsibility to spark that in everybody else, so I gotta come to play every single night.

“I feel like every leader should want to do that,” he added. “You can’t just be all talk. You’ve got to back it up and be the example, not just say it.”

Aaron Nesmith scored a career-high 15 points in the win over Charlotte, with Tristan Thompson adding 12 points and 13 rebounds. Boston played without Kemba Walker (left oblique injury) and Marcus Smart (suspension), giving other players a chance to thrive.

“I’m just going out there 110 percent, trying to make any effort plays that I can because I know every team needs effort plays,” Nesmith said. “That’s what wins ballgames. And so I’m gonna go out there and put my body on the line in order to make a play happen.”

The Spurs (31-30) head to Beantown after a 116-111 loss in Miami on Wednesday that snapped a three-game win streak.

San Antonio built a seven-point third-quarter lead on the Heat with great defense then gave it all back when Miami ended the period with a 15-0 run. The Heat canned clutch free throws down the stretch to cement the win.

After the loss, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich praised his players for their consistent effort while lamenting several stretches that cost the Spurs Wednesday’s game.

“I love this group — it’s the best part of what we do,” Popovich said about the effort. “They might go through bad periods for three, four, five minutes, but they keep playing, they don’t give in. We’re just trying to reduce mistakes, get some more experience for some guys, and it’s paying off slowly but surely.

“We had some open threes that we executed really well and didn’t fall — that’s basketball.”

Dejounte Murray led San Antonio with a 22-point triple double (11 assists, 10 rebounds) in the loss. DeMar DeRozan added 20 points, Lonnie Walker IV scored 18 points, Keldon Johnson had 14, Rudy Gay hit for 13, and Devin Vassell tallied 11 points after moving into the starting role for the injured Derrick White.

The Spurs are jockeying for position in the Western Conference play-in tournament, but they’ll have to do so without White after the guard severely sprained his right ankle in the Spurs’ 146-143 overtime victory at Washington on Monday.

Popovich said Wednesday that White was not expected to need surgery for the injury but that it would keep him out for the rest of the season.

“As you can imagine (White’s) spirits are not high,” Popovich said.