Dallas and San Antonio Rivalry Still Strong Despite Role-Reversal

Dirk Nowitzki's status is still uncertain for the big match-up against the San Antonio Spurs.  No matter who is on the court, the Mavericks will have their hands full with their I-35 rivals.  The Spurs will come in to the American Airlines Center on Thursday night with the league's best record at 27-4.  It doesn't matter if it's recognized by the NBA but the Mavericks/Spurs rivalry is right up there in terms of the game's best rivalry.  The Texas showdown has added a new wrinkle this season as the Mavericks and the Spurs appear to have swapped their personalities. 

Dallas has won four straight regular season games against San Antonio including five of the last six.  The Mavericks have taken the last three meetings in Dallas and have won five of the last seven games at the American Airlines Center.  Historically, the Mavericks are behind the Spurs in the all-time series at 62-83 but they have a chance to create a winning home record against the Spurs.  All-time, the Mavericks are 36-36 in home games against the Spurs.

The Spurs are handling their business, but they're more inclined to run you out of the gym now instead of making it a grind it out game.  Tim Duncan isn't asked to carry the load, that role now comes in waves between Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson.  San Antonio is among the league leaders in points/game (105.9).  That alone should tell you it's a different team; they're a different team but still taking care of business.   "They're playing well," Dirk Nowitzki said of the Spurs. "Good teams play hard, and you have to give them credit. It almost seems like they changed their philosophy a bit, but for some reason, the Spurs always win. They used to win games, 75-74, and now they win games 110-109, but it's the same thing. They always win."

For the Mavericks, the emphasis is now placed on defense and the numbers are backing it up.  They are in the top tier in the major defensive statistics such as points allowed, opponents field goal percentage and points per shot.  Their overall point differential is up as well to +5.6, yet they're still looking up at the Spurs who have a +8.3 differential.  The teams have different philosophies but the results haven't changed.  The Mavericks are chasing the Spurs for the league's best record and they're only 2.5 games back in that race as they have the third best record in the league at 24-6.  That just goes to show that the two teams are representing their division and their conference.

"The West is tough,'' Rick Carlisle said. "This (Southwest) division again is back to being one of the toughest divisions in all of sports.  The Spurs are having a great year, and they're gonna continue to be good. Look, this is a long, long year. We're about a third of the way through in terms of the number of games played. There's a long ways to go and a lot to be decided.  And I'll be saying that when there's four days left in the season. That's just how it is every year, because there's a lot of things that change the last four or five days in terms of seedings and all those kinds of things."

Over the past ten years, the two teams have crossed paths numerous times in the playoffs so they are familiar with each other.  For the longest time, the Spurs were the big brother and kept derailing the little brother Mavericks.  The Mavericks were eventually able to break through and it gave them an enormous confidence boost.  In general, the league is about taking advantage of match-ups.  Dallas has always used San Antonio as a frame of reference and tried to follow the Spurs' blueprint to build a championship contending team.  Now, the fear factor is completely gone and the Mavericks truly feel they can hang with the Spurs and beat them. 

In the last game against the Spurs on November 26, the Mavericks were led by Dirk Nowitzki's 26 points on 12-14 shooting and 2-2 from three-point range.  Nowitzki's status is still in doubt as he is recovering from a sprained knee.  If the Mavericks don't have the big German, they will need to find a way to keep the offense moving and remain fluid against the Spurs.  They were unsuccessful in that task against the Toronto Raptors and the Mavs were held to a season-low 76 points. 

The Spurs, like the Miami Heat, are a team that evokes a strong emotional response from Jason Terry.  The scoring guard says that no matter how well the Spurs are playing, or any other team for that matter, he and his teammates view themselves as the best that the league has to offer. The former Sixth Man of the Year award winner doesn't see that changing through the course of the long season.  "Our goal is to win the Western Conference, and to do that we've just got to keep winning and getting better. It's so far away from the end of the season, it's not even funny. But since (the Spurs) are close to us, and they're ahead of us right now, beating them would give us another game up. So, that's what we're looking at."

Jason Terry added: "It's still a fight. But we've positioned ourselves now to go out and have a great season. I think personally we're better than every team in the league. And that's no disrespect to the Spurs or anybody."

On Thursday Night, it's fight night against the Spurs.  The roles might be different but the rivalry still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

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