Even if this matchup is a Western Conference finals preview, it’s unlikely to look much like any of the games in that series.
Despite the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs being two of the favorites to win the NBA championship, it does not appear the final regular-season meeting between the teams Sunday will represent any kind of statement game.
Dallas (65-14) already has set a franchise record for wins and clinched the league’s best record. While the Mavericks have wrapped up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Spurs are still fighting for the No. 2 seed in the West and a home-court edge for the first two rounds, but they would need help from the Phoenix Suns to get it.
The Mavericks have been resting many starters this week, or at least playing them limited minutes, and the Spurs (58-21) did the same in their most recent game. It seems likely both teams will rely heavily on their reserves in this one as well, with neither coach wanting its stars to expend too much energy as the playoffs approach.
These clubs met in the West semifinals last season, and the Mavericks took the series by winning Game 7 in San Antonio. This time, Game 7 would be in Dallas and though the Mavs will finish with a better record, no team has been better since the All-Star break than the Spurs.
San Antonio is 23-3 in that span, and Dallas is next-best with a 21-5 mark. The teams haven’t met since Dallas’ 90-85 win on Jan. 5. The Spurs took the first meeting this season before the Mavs won the last two—both in San Antonio.
“We can’t really focus on them because the only way we’ll see them is in the Western Conference finals, so we just have to focus on ourselves,” Spurs forward Robert Horry said.
The six-time NBA champion got a rare start Friday and scored 11 points as San Antonio rolled past Minnesota 110-91 for its sixth straight win. Horry played 23 minutes, two more than Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili.
While Duncan had 12 points and 10 rebounds, Ginobili scored a team-high 21 points and was part of a Spurs bench that accounted for 74 points.
All-Star point guard Tony Parker went to the bench after picking up two fouls in the first 1:44, and coach Gregg Popovich opted to let him sit out the rest of the game.
“Tony took a break tonight,” said Popovich, whose team shot better than 50 percent from the field for the fourth straight game. San Antonio has averaged 110.8 points in that span.
“We’re getting ready for the playoffs, and we played pretty well,” Popovich said.
Mavericks coach Avery Johnson didn’t even bring veterans Dirk Nowitzki and Jerry Stackhouse to their road game at Minnesota on Wednesday. Stackhouse sat out again Friday, and Johnson kept Jason Terry and Erick Dampier on the bench due to minor injuries as Dallas lost 104-89 to Utah.
It was just the Mavs’ second loss in their last 30 home games.
“We kind of walked through the game, slept-walked,” said Johnson, who limited Nowitzki to 29 minutes though his All-Star forward still led the team with 23 points.
Four reserves played more than 16 minutes for Dallas, which was outrebounded 50-26 and allowed Utah to shoot 52.1 percent from the field. San Antonio is the second-best shooting team in the league at 47.7 percent.
“We still have to take care of business and try to still do things to get better going into the playoffs,” said Dallas’ Devean George. “The guys that really aren’t starters or play a lot of minutes, it’s our time to get into a good rhythm so when we come off the bench in the playoffs we’ll be sharp.”
One of those reserves is Kevin Willis, the 44-year-old forward who came out of retirement to sign with Dallas earlier this month. Willis, a reserve on San Antonio’s championship team in 2002-03, scored six points in 13 minutes Friday.
“By the playoffs my legs should be under me,” Willis said. “I’m trying to get my wind. When that happens, I like my chances.”