With the Spurs coming to town tonight, something about it seems strange. It feels like a postponed rivalry that won't be restarted until tip tonight. Usually, there is more fanfare coming into the game, it feels like more of an event. But with the Mavericks exiting the playoffs prematurely last year, the Spurs were never even in the picture for the Mavericks. If the Mavs had gotten past Golden State, they still would have had to go another round before potentially meeting them. So they were never even on the Mavericks' horizon. And the Mavs were constructed to beat a team like the Spurs last year, they just never got their opportunity.
Now it's time to fire this thing up again and open up the Mavericks' true rivalry once more. The Mavs hold a three-game winning streak against the Spurs and have won four of their last five regular-season meetings. And even though the Mavericks have changed quite a bit since the two teams last met, things in San Antonio are mostly the same. Tim Duncan is still their best player, Manu Ginobili still provides a ton of spark off the bench and Tony Parker is as confident as ever after winning the NBA Finals MVP award.
Their starting core is the same as it was last year, and the only thing they really switched up was their bench. They gave away Beno Udrih just before the season started, and rookie Darius Washington has been getting some of the minutes Udrih used to get. He has averaged almost 17 minutes per game in his last three games and has played in all eight games so far this season.
Center Francisco Elson has been getting more minutes than starting center Fabricio Oberto, and you can likely expect more of the same tonight as the Spurs will likely be throwing different defenders at Dirk all night. Elson has quite a bit more success against Dirk than Oberto in the past, and Bruce Bowen will get some time pestering Dirk also.
Former Fort Worth Flyer Ime Udoka earned himself a spot in the rotation with a strong training camp and is averaging almost 15 minutes per game. Overall, their bench has gotten younger and more athletic, which was one of their few weeks spots in the last two seasons. The youngsters should allow the Spurs to pace themselves even more during the regular season so everyone will be fresh and ready to go for another deep playoff run.
Ultimately, the Mavericks know this team. Everyone does. They don't really do anything different than they have for several years now, and the Mavs probably shouldn't expect any curveballs tonight. And with Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen receiving recent contract extensions, things aren't likely to change any time soon.
-Scooter Hendon, Hoops Nerd