DALLAS _ Whether or not Dirk Nowitzki plays when Dallas entertains the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, the Mavericks know they need to put forth a better effort than the one they gave during Tuesday’s lackluster 84-76 loss to Toronto.
The Spurs (27-4) are the best team in the NBA and lead the Mavs (24-6) by 2 1/2 games in the Southwest Division. San Antonio has won 12 of its past 13 games, and has shown they can win games in a variety of ways.
One night earlier this season the Spurs took down the Houston Rockets in overtime, 124-121. The very next game they had to grind out a 95-91 win over Charlotte.
Such is the versatility the Spurs bring to the court on a nightly basis.
“They’re playing up tempo, they’re pushing the ball, and they’ve got a good thing going,’’ Mavs guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “We’ve got to come out here and think that they’re going to be up for this game and we’ve got to play hard.’’
Everything the Spurs are doing this season flies in the face of the way they’ve conducted business under coach Gregg Popovich. Defense has always been the Spurs’ staple, but this year they’re 12th in the league in points allowed (97.6), 16th in defensive field goal percentage (.458 percent), and next-to-last in 3-point field goal percentage allowed (.402 percent).
Offensively, the Spurs lead the NBA in 3-point shooting (.402 percent), is fourth in scoring (105.9) and fifth in field goal accuracy (.472 percent).
Indeed, the Spurs’ interchangeable parts have been their calling card.
Last week the Spurs lost a track meet at Orlando, 123-101, but recovered to win slow-poke games over Washington (94-80) and the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers (97-82).
Back on Nov. 26, the Mavs snapped the Spurs' 12-game winning streak with a 103-94 win in San Antonio. But that was with Nowitzki in the lineup.
Nowitzki missed Tuesday's game against Toronto with a sprained right knee and is listed as day-to-day. Mavs center Tyson Chandler said: "We’re going to have to get used to playing without the big fella for a little while.''
If Nowitzki can't play, the Mavs will probably need every player in their rotation to raise their level of play a notch or two as they try to close the gap on the Spurs.
“This is a big game for us,’’ Chandler said. “We’re going to have to play to our personnel now.
“Defensively, I think we’ll be OK. Offensively we’re going to have to make the adjustments so that we can keep up with them.''
-- Dwain Price