Dallas (26-11) at San Antonio (33-6)

By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Thursday, Jan 13, 2011 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EST Fri Jan 14, 2011

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle refuses to use the absence of Dirk Nowitzki(notes) as an excuse for his team’s struggles. As they continue falling further behind the San Antonio Spurs in the Southwest Division, though, the Mavericks may need to learn how to win without their star soon.

The Mavericks face the Spurs without Nowitzki for the second time Friday night in San Antonio.

Nowitzki missed his eighth straight game with a sprained knee Tuesday as Dallas fell 102-89 at Indiana. The Mavericks (26-11) are 2-6 without Nowitzki, who is averaging 24.1 points per game.

“I’m not answering any Dirk questions,” Carlisle said after the loss. “We don’t have Dirk, so it’s not a topic that’s worth discussion. We’ve got to win with the guys we have.”

That’s proving to be difficult, especially after forward Caron Butler(notes) went down with a possible season-ending knee injury that required surgery. Carlisle opened up a bit after practice Thursday, saying Nowitzki is progressing but won’t be rushed.

“Dirk increases his workouts every day, and signs are positive,” he told the team’s official website. “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.”

Shawn Marion(notes), who has started the last five in place of Nowitzki, has been inconsistent. He’s had games of 22, 25 and 18 points, but had an eight-point effort and scored 12 against Indiana.

After a stretch in which they reached the 100-point mark in 13 of 16 games with Nowitzki in the lineup, Dallas has been held to fewer than 100 in six of eight without him - including a 99-93 loss to the Spurs on Dec. 30.

San Antonio (33-6) has won four straight and eight of 10 to increase its lead over Dallas to six games. While the Mavericks are waiting for someone to step up their play, the Spurs seem to be getting contributions from everyone.

Tony Parker(notes) has been struggling and Richard Jefferson(notes) was held scoreless Wednesday, but Matt Bonner(notes) scored 17 points in a season-high 31 minutes off the bench to spark a 91-84 victory over Milwaukee.

Manu Ginobili(notes) had 23 points and Tim Duncan(notes) added 16 points and eight rebounds.

“A lot of different guys are playing very well on different nights. It’s turned into the record that we have now,” Duncan said. “We’re not counting on one individual to try to get it done every night.”

Reserve Gary Neal(notes) took his turn in the December victory against the Mavericks, scoring 21 points. San Antonio, however, would like to get Parker on track, as the guard has averaged 10.3 points and shot 31.7 percent in his last four games.

With Nowitzki and Butler, Dallas won 103-94 on Nov. 26 in San Antonio. The Mavericks have taken two straight and three of five at the AT&T Center.

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Friday, Jan 14