San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Neither big man Tim Duncan (sore knee) nor coach Gregg Popovich (illness) made the trip to Dallas (via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com).
For the Spurs, winners of six straight, the 2012-13 season has been business as usual. Their current six-game winning streak has pushed them into a virtual tie with the Oklahoma City Thunder atop the Western Conference.
Minus the 36-year-old Duncan's age-defying statistics (he's averaging nearly 18 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks) and Popovich's leadership, though, the Spurs may struggle to continue their winning ways against a Mavericks team playing its best basketball of the season.
Dallas figured to be in line for a trying season when owner Mark Cuban's superstar hopes for the 2012 offseason were dashed. And things only grew worse when word broke that the right knee of Dirk Nowitzki would force the former MVP to the operating room just weeks before the season tipped off.
But as Nowitzki has worked his way back to form (he's averaged 16.7 points per game over his past 10 outings), the Mavericks have responded. Dallas has won four of its past five games, with the only blemish being a 117-114 overtime loss to Oklahoma City.
Cuban's club might be far removed from its traditional spot in the conference standings (11), but still stands just three games back of eighth place.
These teams have already met twice this season, resulting in blowout wins for the Spurs each time. But both of those contests featured a San Antonio team playing at full strength, and a Dallas team still working its way to that point.
Time: Friday, January 25, 8 p.m. ET
Records: San Antonio Spurs (34-11), Dallas Mavericks (18-24)
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Tim Duncan (knee), out
Kawhi Leonard (knee), questionable
Tony Parker, PG, Spurs vs. Darren Collison, PG, Mavericks
Replacing Duncan and Popovich is no small task, but there may not be a more indispensable player on the Spurs' roster than Parker.
His understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of himself and his teammates may be unrivaled by his peers at the position. It's the main caveat behind his jaw-dropping stat line: 19.8 points on 52.0 percent shooting from the field and 7.4 assists to 2.4 turnovers per game.
Without Duncan on the floor, he'll be the focal point of Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle's defensive game plan. But he drew that same kind of attention when Duncan missed Wednesday night's game with the New Orleans Hornets, and responded with a game-saving 24 points, season-high 13 assists and just one turnover in 36-plus minutes.
But Parker won't have an easy path to gaudy numbers, not with the tenacious Collison standing in his way.
He's a gambler defensively, and hasn't quite discovered when to dial back those attempts. Parker is one of the league's better players in terms of changing speed and direction, and he has the potential to punish Collison if the former UCLA star gets overzealous on the defensive end. But Collison's elite-level quickness allows him a swift recovery on poor reads.
But for Collison to put his team in position to hold home court, he'll need to put Parker to work on the other end of the floor. If he makes a conscious effort to push the tempo and continue converting his looks at a 48.3 percent clip, he'll limit the energy that Parker can expend on the offensive end.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Mavericks
Without Duncan in the mix, Nowitzki is light years in front of the rest of the frontcourt players taking the floor in this matchup.
Yes, even if he's still not back to his pre-injury level.
His shooting has bared the brunt of those lingering effects (40.8 percent from the field), but he's lifted his overall production to compensate. Over his past three outings, Nowitzki has corralled 8.0 rebounds and turned away 1.7 shots per game.
And history tells us it's only a matter of time before those shots start falling. As it is, those wince-worthy numbers from the field haven't limited his effectiveness from beyond the arc (37.8 percent on the year).
If Collison and O.J. Mayo continue commanding defense attention, Nowitzki could be the benefactor of some one-sided individual battles.
Manu Ginobili, SG, Spurs
The combination of the production from Duncan and Parker supplemented by the Spurs supporting cast has helped mask an up-and-down season for Ginobili.
He's had five 20-plus-point outbursts and 12 single-digit efforts. His scoring (12.0 points per game) has dropped to its lowest level since his sophomore season in 2003-04. His field-goal percentage (44.0) has only dipped below its current mark once over that same span.
But that doesn't mean that the Spurs are worried about him being able to turn this season around.
And rightly so given the gaudy resume he's produced over his 11-year career.
San Antonio can ill-afford a down night from Ginobili here, and it'll need some spirited defensive performances as well whenever he draws Mayo's number.
San Antonio Spurs 113, Dallas Mavericks 107
The Mavericks are playing well and the Spurs are missing two key pieces, but these are the types of games that San Antonio has won over the years.
Their depth is one of their leading championship arguments, and it's the reason the Spurs are able to travel outside of San Antonio and steal a game like this in front of a national audience.
If Nowitzki was full strength, that might be enough to sway my opinion the opposite direction.
But he's not, and I can't say with confidence who will find clutch baskets for the Mavericks.
If this game comes down to the wire (and with both teams holding explosive offenses, it certainly appears headed there), I'll take Parker's and Ginobili's chances late, over hobbled Nowitzki's, Mayo's or certainly Mike James'.
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