Posted January 24, 2013 on AP on Fox
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As easily as the San Antonio Spurs have dominated the Dallas Mavericks this season, there's reason to believe this matchup could be different. Even though the Spurs are rolling and Gregg Popovich should be back on the sidelines, the Mavericks have gotten hot themselves and might not have to face Tim Duncan when these rivals square off Friday night in Dallas. San Antonio (34-11) is riding the league's longest current winning streak at six games after defeating New Orleans 106-102 on Wednesday despite missing Popovich and Duncan. Popovich did not feel well all day but waited until two hours before tipoff to say he would miss the game. Assistant Mike Budenholzer filled in for Popovich, whose absence certainly came as a surprise. "Pop's a warrior," veteran Stephen Jackson said. "Pop might be the only person who's tougher than me. I've never known him not to be here." Jackson had 15 points - his total from the previous four games combined - to help fill the void left by Duncan, who scored 24 in each of his last two games. It's possible Duncan will get another day off Friday to rest his sore knee, and fellow starter Kawhi Leonard (patella tendon) also could miss a second straight game. Another potential factor favoring the Mavericks (18-24) is they've had four days off since last playing. San Antonio has had two games in that span. "Four days off in the middle of the season usually doesn't happen much, so you gotta make the best of it," said Dirk Nowitzki, who has played 15 games since returning from knee surgery. "We've gotta mix some rest with some work, looks like we're mixing more work than rest." Nowitzki's season debut came at San Antonio on Dec. 23 in a 129-91 defeat as the Spurs set a franchise record with 20 3-pointers. He was held to eight points that day and in Dallas a week later when the Spurs rolled to a 111-86 victory. Those two defeats were part of a 1-10 slump that dropped the Mavericks 10 games below .500. They've since won five of six, averaging 110.7 points, and the only loss came in overtime to league-best Oklahoma City. Unselfishness has keyed the resurgence. At least six players have scored in double figures in each of the past five games as Dallas has averaged 26.8 assists and 10.6 turnovers. Vince Carter had a season-high six of the Mavs' 29 assists in a 111-105 win at Orlando on Sunday, two nights after scoring a season-best 29 points against the Thunder. "Now that the adjustment has been made (to Nowitzki), we're really starting to jell it together and I think that's the biggest thing more than anything," said Carter, who turns 36 on Saturday. "I think when you see how he moves the ball and he's very unselfish, everyone else kind of catches on and understands that's the way the offense is played." One player who could be a bigger part of the Spurs offense Friday is Manu Ginobili, who scored 20 last month at Dallas and returned Wednesday after missing four games with a strained hamstring. He scored five of his nine points in the fourth quarter and played 17 minutes. "He looked good," said Tony Parker, who had 24 points and a season-best 13 assists. "He didn't go full speed. I think he was trying it (hamstring) and testing it. In Dallas, he's going to get more aggressive."
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