First Impressions: Spurs 104, Mavs 87
There is surface-skimming reasoning to an argument that because Dallas and San Antonio have split their four games this season, each club winning a pair at home after Friday's 104-87 Spurs victory, only the finest of lines separate the two Southwest Division rivals. But looked at from another angle – margin of victory in those four games – the defending champion Mavs seem to have some catching up to do.
In 27-22 Dallas' two wins over the Spurs the margin of victory is one and seven points, respectively.
In 31-14 San Antonio's two wins over the Dallas Mavericks, the margin of victory is 22 and 17 points, respectively.
Now, you know I'm not a point-differential guy; that's Trollinger Territory. I value W's, not "HYGTW's.'' (How You Got The W's.) So I want to believe Gregg Popovich ...
"They are the NBA champions,'' Coach Pop said. "They competed and we competed as well as they did tonight and our defense did well. It's one game and that's that. The next game is the most important. They'll bounce back and hopefully we'll play well again."''
And yeah, there are bounce-back arguments to be made that some of what occurred with Dallas was fluky in nature. That list begins with Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a deceptively-decent 16 points. He did so while missing a dozen consecutive shots, finishing a miserable 5-for-21 from the floor, collecting a late-game technical foul fueled by frustration, and contributing on the boards in an historically sparse way: MDug research establishes that in Nowitzki's brilliant 13-year career, on only 10 occasions has he played 37 minutes in a game and collected two or fewer rebounds.
This was one of those nights.
"I feel great, it's just a (expletive) of games,'' said Nowitzki in reference to the crowded 66-game season. "Some nights you're not just going to have your legs.''
Nowitzki's production drought opened the way for San Antonio to blow the game open with a definitive 22-2 spurt midway through the second half. The Spurs piled it on with scoring balance, Danny Green scoring 18, Tim Duncan with 15 points (and a game-high 12 rebounds), Matt Bonner with 14 points (including 4-of-5 shooting from the arc), Kawhi Leonard with 12 and Manu Ginobili with 11. San Antonio achieved a fifth victory in its last six games with MVP candidate Tony Parker not playing due to a hamstring problem.
Parker's absence helped allow Jason Terry to lead the Mavericks with 18 points. But not even Terry could help the Mavs during that 22-2 period of domination, which lasted eight minutes and featured a single Dallas field goal.
The Spurs got some help from newcomer Boris Diaw (signed this week), who in his first game finished with two points, three rebounds and an assist in almost 16 minutes while taking a turn guarding Nowitzki. Meanwhile, veteran Lamar Odom – last season's NBA Sixth Man of the Year while playing with the Lakers – gave the Mavs nothing as he was tugged from the rotation by Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. Odom had produced an embarrassing 1-1-1 line in the boxscore on Tuesday in a loss to his former Lakers team and this time around was saved such embarrassment with the DNP-CD.
That's one way to avoid getting booed, and one way to never let anyone see if your pants are on fire: keep your warmups on over your pants and stay seated all evening.
Despite the Odom oddity, the Mavs have a few silver linings, including the return from a knee injury of Shawn Marion, who had 13 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 30 minutes.
"Marion,'' said Carlisle, who used him against Ginobili, "is probably the Defensive Player of the Year.''
Dallas can also take solace in the fact that it was capable of being in charge of this game two-and-a-half quarters in. Jason Kidd's 3-pointer pushed the Dallas lead to 63-58 with 4:17 left in the third … but Dirk hit the skids and San Antonio closed the quarter with a 12-0 run.
The Spurs hit the accelerator again to start the fourth with a 10-2 stretch to start the fourth quarter, and the Mavs were buried not only on the scoreboard but in the fight for the 50/50 balls. In losing its eighth road game in its last nine outings, Dallas was outrebounded 54-34 and was outscored in the paint 50-16 in the paint.
"Tough game, but I liked a lot of what we did out there,'' said Carlisle, apparently in a silver-lining mood.
Dallas remains a candidate to be a top-tier playoff seed in the West, especially because – with rare exceptions including this one – the postseason-minded Mavs generally play their best basketball against contending teams. (That's not to excuse their recent 12-day problems with the Nets, Kings, Warriors and other NBA dregs; it's just a fact.) But with 22 losses, the Mavs have the same number as middling Western Conference teams like the Jazz and the Rockets. A chance to separate themselves from Houston comes Saturday and Tuesday, when the Mavs play the Rockets in consecutive meetings.
And a chance to close the gap between themselves and San Antonio? The Spurs' game on Friday is the first of their back-to-back-to-back series in this compacted lockout season. They will play at New Orleans on Saturday and then bounce back to San Antonio to host the Sixers on Sunday.
"This is something we need,'' said Ginobili of the Spurs' level of intensity. "We know how the playoffs are and there only 14 or 15 more games left until then."
And therefore only that many games to discover what the real distance is between Dallas and San Antonio.
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