Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/24/12
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 Mavericks 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 Mavs, the margin of victory is 22 and 17 points, respectively. Friday's game in San Antonio was a night of negative runs for Dallas, which put them in holes they could never climb out of. That list begins with Dirk Nowitzki, who scored a deceptively-decent 16 points Friday night. Nowitzki 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: 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. 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 Dallas during San Antonio's second half run, which lasted eight minutes and featured a single Dallas field goal. The Spurs got some help from newcomer Boris Diaw, who signed with the team earlier on Friday after being bought out by the Charlotte Bobcats. In his first game, Diaw finished with two points, three rebounds and an assist in almost 16 minutes while taking a turn guarding Nowitzki. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom last season's NBA Sixth Man of the Year while playing with the Lakers gave the Mavericks nothing as he was tugged from the rotation by Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. Odom had produced an embarrassing "quadruple one" line in the boxscore on Tuesday in a loss to his former Lakers team and this time around was saved such embarrassment by not touching the court. 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. 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 thirdbut 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 quarter, and the Mavs were buried not only on the scoreboard but in the fight for the 5050 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. 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. 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. The season is winding down, and despite Dallas' team motto this year of being "built for the playoffs," the race for the playoffs in the West is tightening up. Some very good teams will be left on the outside looking in if they do not get their act together. San Antonio does not have much to worry about, but Dallas still has a lot to prove over this last handful of games.
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