Coach's Corner: Bill Fitch on Mavericks vs. Spurs
By Bill Fitch (As told to Andrew Pearson)

The Mavs visit San Antonio Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.


Fitch
The drive for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference takes a turn through San Antonio on Friday night when the Spurs host the Mavericks. Both teams are coming off games against Sacramento with differing outcomes. Dallas handled them very easily, winning 127-101, while Sacramento handled San Antonio very easily, 97-87. Sacramento didn’t play very well against Dallas, but they couldn’t have played any better than they did against San Antonio. So you kind of throw that game out for both teams.

Recently, there has been some concern regarding the Mavs and their average play in March, when they went 9-8. What happened was they really were rolling, and then they had some injuries to key guys like Josh Howard, Devin Harris, Keith Van Horn and Adrian Griffin. That and I think Dallas got out of sync. While they were going through that period, though, they got some valuable time for their bench, and some of their bench players picked up a little more confidence. Sometimes adversity can bring along some good things. They are getting back in sync now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The Mavs can move within a game of the Spurs with a win.
Chris Birck/NBAE/Getty Images
This game includes two teams that depend a lot on a couple of players. The Spurs naturally are led by Tim Duncan, who has battled foot problems all year. If he has a bad night, they can have a bad night. It’s the same on the Dallas side with Dirk Nowitzki. Both these guys are obvious keys in this ballgame and it will be interesting to see how the coaches match up on these two players.

If you look at Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the backcourt and with Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel backing them up, you’ve got pretty good role players in the Spurs backcourt. The Dallas backcourt with Jerry Stackhouse in there along with Jason Terry now, gives them a lot of potential offensively, but depth wise, I think that the Spurs have a little more power going with Finley and Van Exel coming off the bench rather than Darrell Armstrong and Marquis Daniels. However, both Armstrong and Daniels have been given some extra work due to the Mavs injury problems and they’ve come on and really helped Dallas’ depth.

X-FACTORS

In their three previous meetings this season, Tony Parker has been outstanding, averaging nearly 26 points per game. To try and slow him down, I would guess that Terry will get the assignment defensively. He is probably too quick for Stackhouse and Stackhouse matches up a little bit better with Ginobili, who can go inside and post up if you put a small man on him. It could be that Daniels plays an important role on Friday night trying to play some defense over there too. That is the Achilles heal for Dallas. If they can play defensively like they have in their two recent blowout wins against Sacramento and Denver, they could be tough.

Dallas will also hope that this game is decided at the free throw line where they are shooting 78 percent for the season.

THE BOTTOM LINE

When I was coaching, you would have about 10 key games, and about two that are key rehearsals for the playoffs. This is one of those games for the Spurs. Coming off the way they played against Sacramento, I think that Gregg Popovich will have them all loaded and ready to go – and they better be. If you are Dallas and you win this ballgame, you still have a hope to secure home court advantage for the playoffs. If you lose, then it’s all over. I am sure Pop is getting it across to the guys that they don’t want to have a one game lead with one or two games to play, because anything can happen. This is a key game. Both teams will go at it as if it was the first game of a seven game series. Everyone will be up for this one. I have been flipping a coin all morning trying to decide who will pull this one out, but I like the Spurs and their heart of a champion.

-- Bill Fitch appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association