Earl K. Sneed reports from San Antonio and previews the Mavericks' Friday night showdown with the Spurs in the third of four meetings between the two teams this season.
SAN ANTONIO — The first time around, the Dallas Mavericks proved that they could go into the AT&T Center and defeat the San Antonio Spurs on their home floor. Just a month later, the Mavericks also showed that they could compete with the Spurs for 48 minutes even without the services of leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki.
Friday night, the Mavericks may be forced to accomplish all of the above.
As Nowitzki’s playing status remains listed as day-to-day, the Mavericks (26-11) return to the Alamo City hoping to claim a second win on the Spurs’ home floor. The Mavs will also try to duplicate their performance in that 103-94 road win on Nov. 26 that ended San Antonio’s 12-game winning streak at the time.
Only this time the Mavs will look to bring an end to San Antonio's current four-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, should Nowitzki be sidelined for what would be a ninth straight game due to a sprained right knee, the Mavericks will try to improve upon their performance the last time they saw the Spurs (33-6), when the Dallas squad fell at the American Airlines Center, 99-93, with its franchise player in street clothes.
“It is what it is,” forward Shawn Marion said. “We know what we’ve got to do and we know what we’re capable of. The last time we played San Antonio at home we were right there until like the last couple of minutes of the game. We know what they’re gonna do, we know how they match up with us, and we’ve just got to go out there and get it done.”
“It’s a tough game. It’s gonna be a tough game if he [Nowitzki] goes or if he doesn’t,” sixth man Jason Terry added. “So, pistols loaded, excuse my language, but I’m cocked and ready to go.”
Already without their third-leading scorer, Caron Butler, for what’s expected to be the remainder of the season after surgery to repair a ruptured right patellar tendon, the Mavericks haven’t completely ruled out having Nowitzki back for the nationally-televised showdown. They just aren’t going to rush him back until both the organization and the player feel the nine-time All-Star is back to full strength.
And although Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says that Nowitzki is making steady progress, the coach also doesn’t plan on giving the green light until the 7-footer is back to 100 percent. Until then, Carlisle knows that his team must concentrate on playing winning basketball, even if No. 41 isn’t on the court.
“Dirk increases his workouts every day and signs are positive,” Carlisle said. “But it’s very important that we focus on the guys that we have available at this time and make sure that he gets back absolutely 100 percent healthy.
“We’ve listed him day-to-day because we don’t believe this is a serious injury and he is making progress. On the other hand, we’re going to maintain an extremely cautious posture on this going forward. And like everyone else, we want him to be back as soon as possible 100 percent healthy … In the meantime, as a team, we must focus on the guys that we have available and find ways to win games with them,” the coach added.
With that in mind, the Mavericks head into Friday night’s matchup with the Spurs a full six games behind in the Southwest Division standings. And if the Mavericks are going to make up ground, center Tyson Chandler says that it won’t be because the team is sitting back awaiting Nowitzki’s return.
“The thing is you don’t want to rush anything,” Chandler said. “I’ve been there, I’ve rushed and I’ve been on the sidelines in the same situation — watching my team lose, watching my team suffer. And then I’ve tried to jump back out there, and before you know it, something else is bothering you. So, we need him for the long haul. We don’t need him coming back early and causing any other effects to anything. We want him 100 percent.”
Instead, Chandler believes that the Dallas defense will be instrumental if the Mavericks are to close the gap on the Spurs, as they try to slow down San Antonio’s Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs’ talented trio combined to average 50.5 points in the first two meetings, making the three All-Stars once again the main focuses for Dallas defensively.
Still, the Mavericks say that they are also mindful of the fact that they’ll have to contain San Antonio’s supporting cast, after key role players like George Hill, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair have each found success for stretches.
And according to Chandler, if Nowitzki is once again unable to go, it will take a collective and individual effort in order for the Mavericks to avoid falling for a seventh time in their last nine games.
“I’m a very passionate person and I take every loss personally, but I would much rather have him [Nowitzki] down the stretch when it counts,” Chandler explained. “This is not the playoffs and we’re not winning any championships right now. But, you know, I’m not gonna kid you, it is built through the season. So, the thing we have to do is buckle down as individuals defensively and really try to turn this around.”
Note: Friday night’s Mavericks-Spurs showdown will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on ESPN. It is the third of four regular-season meetings between the two squads and the second matchup of the Mavericks' four-game road trip.
After finishing up their road trip, the Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center Jan. 19 to host the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. It will be the first time the two teams play this season. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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