With these rivals separated by one game, far ahead all other Western Conference teams, the Mavericks will try to further prove they are a legitimate threat to replace the Spurs as NBA champions in one of the season’s biggest matchups.
“We are not worried about the hype,” Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan said. “They are a good team and we know that. We are going to be playing them on our home court and we know that. We are going to play hard and whatever happens, happens.”
Both previous meetings this season have been in Dallas, the last coming on Dec. 1 as San Antonio pulled out a 92-90 victory. Tony Parker scored 30 points, including the go-ahead layup with 35 seconds left, as the Spurs moved two games ahead of their Southwest Division rivals.
Dallas has since moved a game ahead of San Antonio while making some longtime skeptics believe this Mavs team finally has a chance to overtake its in-state nemesis. Only Phoenix—a distant third to the Spurs and Mavs record-wise—is within 10 games of either team in the conference standings.
“They’re coming in trying to establish themselves as a title contender,” said Spurs swingman Michael Finley, playing his third game against his former team.
“We’re trying to get to the point where we were last year, so this is a great matchup. It’s a great time for us to let the world know that we’re still a team to be reckoned with.”
The Mavericks come in as winners of 19 of their last 20, while the Spurs have won 17 of 20.
“This is another game where we must come out and execute our game plan, our system. I like our chances,” said Mavs guard Jason Terry, averaging 24.7 points over the last three games.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment. They are the champions, so it is on us to go in there and play with energy and play our game.”
Dallas has dropped its last three games at San Antonio. The Spurs have lost just three times at home all season and have beaten the last five teams to visit the SBC Center by an average of 22.4 points.
A big key for the Spurs will be slowing down Dirk Nowitzki, who has scored more than 30 points in each of the last three games. Considered a top MVP candidate, Nowitzki was held to 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting in the Mavs’ loss to San Antonio three months ago, but scored 34 in a 103-84 rout of the Spurs in the first meeting Nov. 5.
Nowitzki is expected to be available for Thursday’s matchup despite injuring his ankle Monday in a 104-92 victory over Philadelphia. He left in the third quarter, but came back to score 11 of his 32 points in the fourth as the Mavs won their sixth straight.
Besides a foot injury that has plagued Duncan for most of the season, San Antonio comes into Thursday with a fairly healthy roster. The Spurs have won four in a row and have lost just four times in 28 conference games all season.
“They are playing really well, so we are looking forward to playing them,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “We have the first- and second-best records in the Western Conference, so it is going to be a great game.”