Tuesday night, the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs will find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The two teams will square off in a battle for third place in the Southwest Division of the Western conference.
In years past, this would be a marquee matchup of two Western Conference powerhouses. This year? Not so much. Both limped out of the gate to pitiful starts this season and have had to fight hard to get to their current 11-8 records.
The two teams are currently sitting in spots three and four in the Southwest, with Dallas owning the head-to-head tie breaker. San Antonio can change that with a win Tuesday.
Despite the two teams' slow starts, do not count on them being down for long.
San Antonio was a victim of the injury bug early on in the season. Star shooting guard Manu Ginobili missed the first 13 games of the season after having surgery on his ankle in September.
Without Ginobili, the Spurs opened up the season on a dreadful 1-4 start. Then, to make matters worse, point guard Tony Parker had to leave their sixth game of the season with yet another ankle injury. Parker would miss the next nine games.
Without both Ginobili and Parker, the Spurs were forced to rally. In the seven games that both were out, the Spurs pulled together to go 5-2. With their big three back together, the Spurs are looking to get things back on the right track.
The Mavericks also got off to a terrible start, but cannot blame theirs on injuries. Other than Josh Howard for two games, the only player the Mavs were missing early in the season was Devean George, who is hardly a catalyst for this team.
The Mavs opened up their 2008 season with a very disappointing 2-7 start. Whether it was chemistry, difficulty with the new system, or just sheer bad luck, the Mavs just could not get it going.
Whatever that problem was, it was corrected November 16 when the Mavs opened up what has turned into a 9-1 run to turn around their season. Perhaps more impressive is that most of these wins have come without forward Josh Howard and guard Jerry Stackhouse, who have missed the last eight and 10 games respectively.
Like the Spurs, the Mavs still have work to do and will be looking to make a statement Tuesday night. Time will tell whether either of these teams are for real, and in the long run, there is a better than average chance that neither will live up to their predecessors.
However, if history is any indicator, Tuesday's game should be a great matchup between two rivals that just plain do not like each other, and will probably come down to a last minute, nail-biting finish. Whether they are for real or not, this game is certainly worth watching!