Dallas (3-4) at San Antonio (4-2)

By MATT BECKER, STATS Senior Writer Thursday, Jan 5, 2012 Tipoff: 8:30 pm EST Thu Jan 5, 2012

After opening the season in disappointing fashion while trying to incorporate some new players, the Dallas Mavericks seem to be coming together.

The San Antonio Spurs are off to a strong start, but a significant injury to Manu Ginobili is forcing them to adjust on the fly.

The Mavericks seek a third straight victory to get to .500 Thursday night when they visit the Spurs in the season’s first meeting between the Southwest Division rivals.

Dallas (3-4) looked completely out of sorts at times while losing its first three games as newcomers Vince Carter, Lamar Odom and Delonte West were trying to get comfortable with a new system.

The defending champs now appear to be on the same page.

Odom had a season-high 15 points on 6 of 12 shooting in Wednesday’s 98-89 victory over Phoenix after averaging 5.3 points on 19.5 percent shooting in his first six contests. In the Mavericks’ previous game, Monday’s 100-87 win over Oklahoma City, Carter finished with a season-best 14 points.

Dallas’ defense is also looking much better, yielding an average of 90.3 points on 43.4 percent shooting in the last four after allowing an average of 108.0 points on 51.8 percent shooting in the first three.

“These are steps in the right direction,” said forward Shawn Marion, who had 13 points Wednesday despite playing through an illness. “Things are starting to click on both ends of the floor.”

While some of the newcomers are stepping up, Dallas’ offense obviously still revolves around Dirk Nowitzki. The NBA finals MVP had 20 points and a season-high seven assists Wednesday in his 1,000th NBA game.

“We said at the beginning, we’re going to be a piece of work and everybody is going to come along and I think this team is more set up to peak down the stretch and not now,” Nowitzki said. “Everybody’s got to work themselves back into shape, get the legs strong and play with each other more and I think we’re going to be a good team down the stretch.”

The Spurs (4-2) hope to say the same, but winning the highly competitive Southwest could be tough with Ginobili expected to miss at least two months after fracturing the fifth metacarpal on his shooting hand.

The injury occurred in the second quarter of Monday’s 106-96 loss at Minnesota, and the team announced prior to Wednesday’s game against Golden State that he would need surgery and be sidelined until after the All-Star game. It figures to be a major blow for San Antonio’s offense with Ginobili averaging a team-best 17.4 points on 59.2 percent shooting.

The two-time All-Star gave the Mavericks problems last season, averaging 20.5 points and shooting 11 of 22 from 3-point range as San Antonio took three of four.

Nowitzki missed two of the losses because of injuries, and combined for 49 points and 17 rebounds in the other two.

The Spurs weren’t great in their first game without Ginobili but managed to beat the Warriors 101-95, rallying from eight down with 6:46 to play. Tony Parker stepped up with a season-high 21 points and Richard Jefferson added 17 while making all five 3-point attempts.

“Big, big win for us,” Parker said. “Obviously with Manu out, coming off a loss, a lot of different things. Just being at home, we need to continue to protect our home court.

“Good win for us. We’re down. We find a way to come back. So all in all a lot of good things.”

San Antonio is looking to start 5-0 at home for the first time since opening 2007-08 with 13 straight victories.

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Thursday, Jan 5