Spurs-Mavericks Preview

The Associated Press

After beating two of the NBA's worst teams this week, the Dallas Mavericks are ready to face some tougher competition.

The San Antonio Spurs certainly fit that description, particularly after they turned in an outstanding road win over the Western Conference's best team.

These Southwest Division rivals match up for the third time this season Saturday night in Dallas, where they played an overtime thriller the last time they met.

Dallas (25-20) returned home after an 0-3 road trip and beat Washington and Charlotte this week. Neither victory was all that impressive, especially Thursday's 101-96 win over the league-worst Bobcats in which the Mavericks trailed by as many as 14 points.

"The most important thing is to come out of it with a win," guard Vince Carter said. "When we're playing against a better basketball team, we'll have to be better."

Dallas, which has won four straight at home, knows that the time to be better is now. The Mavericks play the Spurs (29-13) twice in the next four games, also facing Denver, the Lakers, Miami and Orlando over the next eight.

"All these games coming up, the next 10 games are against playoff teams and teams that are higher-echelon teams," coach Rick Carlisle told the Mavericks' official website. "So, everything we're doing is going to have to be at a high level."

San Antonio played at a high level in leading by as many as 27 points before holding on for Friday's 114-105 win at West-leading Oklahoma City. Tony Parker scored 25 points and DeJuan Blair added 22.

"In the second half they made their run. We didn't put our heads down. We just kept going and we got the win," Blair said.

The Spurs rested Manu Ginobili, who has struggled with a left oblique injury in recent weeks. Without him, San Antonio still had all five starters score in double figures and topped 50 percent shooting for the third time during this three-game win streak.

These teams met twice in January, with San Antonio cruising to a 93-71 home win in the first matchup. The Spurs then rallied from an 11-point deficit after three quarters to force overtime in a 101-100 road loss Jan. 29, when Jason Terry scored a season-high 34 points for Dallas.

The clubs will have different lineups than they used two months ago. Starting Spurs forward Richard Jefferson was dealt to Golden State on Thursday as part of a trade for Stephen Jackson, although it's unclear when Jackson will begin his second stint with San Antonio.

Mavs center Brendan Haywood is expected to miss at least five games with a sprained right knee sustained midway through the third quarter Thursday.

Ian Mahinmi, who played his first two seasons with San Antonio, will start at center for Dallas after doing so during a four-game stretch March 6-10 with Haywood out.

"It's a little bit like last week when Brendan went down with that high ankle sprain," Mahinmi said. "It's an opportunity for us, me and Brandan Wright, to step up and give the team some good minutes."

Dirk Nowitzki has totaled 16 points on 8-of-25 shooting against the Spurs this season. The Mavs star has not been at his best through most of the season, but scored 27 points in each win this week.

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