With the Spurs boasting a three-game winning streak, the Mavericks may need every bit of Johnson’s knowledge as two of the NBA’s top teams meet for the second time this season.
Nelson will step aside and let Johnson run the team for this game. Nelson will still be on the bench against the Spurs, but will leave it to Johnson to make decisions.
“I’ll give him my opinion and he’ll have to make the call,” Nelson said. “Just like when he gives me his opinion, I reject some of them, he can reject mine.”
The Mavericks coach would like Johnson to be his successor, and plans to let him coach five or six games this season. Nelson is in his eighth season in Dallas, and is signed through next season.
He chose San Antonio as the first test because Johnson is familiar with the Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich. While playing in San Antonio, Johnson hit the title-clinching jumper in the 1999 NBA Finals.
Johnson ended a 16-year playing career when he retired during the preseason. He returned to Dallas this summer, initially signing as a player-coach.
The Spurs began their winning streak with a strong defensive effort against the Mavericks last week. San Antonio held Dallas to 38 percent shooting in a 94-80 win on Wednesday, which ended a two-game losing streak.
The Spurs extended their streak Saturday, finishing with its highest point total of the season in a 109-97 win over Utah. Malik Rose scored a season-high 16 points and San Antonio shot 59 percent (36-for-61) to earn its 19th straight home win.
“When it goes in the hole, it covers up a lot of things,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We don’t count on doing that very often. We might do that once in a blue moon.”
Manu Ginobili added 15 points, Tony Parker and Devin Brown each had 14 and Tim Duncan had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Spurs, who shot 12-for-16 in the opening quarter. Duncan has led San Antonio in rebounds in all 14 games this season, and was the high scorer in the previous six outings.
San Antonio’s defense has sparked its winning streak. The Spurs have held their last three opponents to 77 points per game. While San Antonio’s offensive got off to a hot start Saturday, hitting nine of its first 10 shots, it held Utah to 3-for-12 shooting over the same span. At 7:01 of the first quarter, the Spurs led 20-6.
Dallas held the Memphis Grizzlies to 37 percent shooting in a 98-85 win Saturday for its second straight win after a three-game losing streak.
“That’s amazing,” said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 32 points and 18 rebounds. “That’s winning time. We don’t have to be that good every night. We can be a very solid, good defense.”
The Mavericks, usually a high-scoring team, have gone more than a week without scoring 100 points.
After missing a game with a sprained ankle, Nowitzki is averaging 26 points and 13.3 rebounds in his last three. Saturday was Nowitzki’s 10th double-double of the season.