The Dallas Mavericks won their first Southwest Division title last season, unseating the two-time defending Southwest champion San Antonio Spurs. It didn't stop the Spurs from earning their fourth NBA title.
The Texas powerhouses meet for the first time this season on Thursday when the Spurs visit Dallas in search of their fifth straight victory.
Dallas won three of four games against San Antonio last season en route to a league-best 67-15 record, ending the Spurs' reign in the Southwest. San Antonio had won both of the previous division titles since realignment before the 2004-05 season.
The Mavericks, however, were upset in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State. San Antonio, eliminated from the playoffs two seasons ago by Dallas, took advantage and won another NBA title.
Both teams have gotten off to strong starts this season, with the Spurs (7-1) holding the best record in the Western Conference. They made a season-high 13 3-pointers on 27 attempts to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-92 on Tuesday for their fifth victory by at least 10 points.
The Spurs were led by an unlikely offensive force on Tuesday as defensive specialist Bruce Bowen finished with 23 points - topping his total output from the previous seven games by three points. He was 6-for-6 from behind the arc.
"He was open tonight. He was open, so that's his calling," said San Antonio point guard Tony Parker, who had 26 points and nine assists. "Everybody knows Bruce makes shots from the corner."
Bowen hadn't topped 20 points since Dec. 2 of last season. He was one point shy of his career high, set Jan. 4, 2005.
"It's really a matter of me acclimating to the season," he said. "Early on you're out there thinking too much and I just really tried to just focus and play tonight."
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (5-2) have averaged 106.2 points in winning four of their last five contests. Jason Terry had 25 points - including 12 in the third quarter - as Dallas beat Philadelphia 99-84 on Tuesday.
"(Terry) passed up three shots early in the game. I had to remind him he's the Microwave, not the Toaster," coach Avery Johnson said about his instant-offense option off the bench.
Terry went 8-for-13 from the floor in the second half, 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
"I know my job, but (Johnson) reminded me," Terry said. "He told me specifically to be more aggressive."
With Tuesday's victory, the Mavericks improved to 3-0 at home, where they had a league-best 36-5 mark last season. They've won their three games there this season by an average of 15.0 points.
One of Dallas' five home losses last season, however, was a 97-91 defeat against San Antonio in its home opener. The Mavs closed their home schedule with a 91-86 victory over the Spurs on April 15 in which Tim Duncan was ejected by Joey Crawford for laughing on the bench. Duncan later claimed that Crawford had a "personal vendetta" against him.
Each of the teams' four meetings last season were decided by six points or fewer.
Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki averaged 27.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 51.7 percent from the field against the Spurs last season. Duncan averaged 19.0 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 51.9 percent against the Mavericks.
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