Over the weekend, Dallas dropped both games of a back-to-back. On Saturday, the Cleveland Cavaliers came into American Airlines Center and beat the Mavericks 111-104. The next day, the Mavericks made the quick trip to Oklahoma City only to be dealt a 112-99 defeat by the Thunder.
The Spurs, meanwhile, have won four of five and are keeping pace in a talented Western Conference.
San Antonio continues to rely on a strong mix of talented players and experienced veterans, and Gregg Popovich remains arguably the best coach in the NBA. And even though the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors look to be the class of the conference, the Spurs should remain a viable contender as the season moves along.
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Here are five things to know about the San Antonio Spurs before they take on the Mavericks for the first time this season.
MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard has yet to step on the floor this season due to a quad injury. “He’s just coming along more slowly for whatever reason,” Popovich told reporters last week before a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. “It’s just been more difficult for him to get through the rehab routine.”
Because Popovich is Popovich, the Spurs have kept pace and have been more than competitive. Other than a four-game losing streak that included losses to the two best teams in the league (Boston and Golden State) and three road losses, San Antonio has built a respectable 8-5 record and is tied for third place in the Western Conference.
Leonard is the most talented and versatile player on this roster, and will determine how far this team goes come playoff time. For now, though, the team should be able to stay afloat until he returns.
One of the criticisms of forward LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland and his past several seasons in San Antonio is that he is too passive on both ends of the floor, especially in the playoffs last spring. There were even rumors that the organization was looking to trade the five-time All-Star in the past summer.
This year, with Leonard out, the big man has stepped up. Through 13 games, he’s first on the team in points (21.8), rebounds (8.5) and minutes (32.8) per game. The former Texas Longhorn is also shooting 50 percent from the field while averaging the 12th most field goal attempts in the league.
Questions about Aldridge’s ability to perform in the postseason will undoubtedly resurface. But with Leonard’s return date unknown, the Spurs are going to need their highest-paid player to continue to produce at a high level.
Even though the Spurs have played respectably well without their best player, the offense has still struggled to consistently score. San Antonio ranks in the bottom half of the league in points per game (22nd) and has had trouble getting to the free-throw line (22nd in attempts) and in free-throw shooting (22nd).
But the Spurs have been efficient from 3-point range, converting 39 percent of their attempts despite average the fourth fewest attempts in the NBA,
And even with Tony Parker recovering from a torn quadriceps tendon injury he suffered in May, guards Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili have helped produce the league’s fourth best assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Spurs are in the middle of a soft spot in their schedule. San Antonio is coming off a six-game home stand that included just one back-to-back set. And since their 20-point home loss to the Warriors on Nov. 2, the Spurs have gained confidence by beating up on some of the worst teams in the league. Their past five opponents have a combined record of 23-38.
The only potential good news for the Mavericks is that Popovich often rests multiple starters against weaker opponents. And the Spurs travel to Minnesota to take on the up-and-coming Timberwolves on Wednesday in the second half of a back-to-back.
Including the playoffs, this game will mark the 209th meeting between the in-state rivals. The Spurs hold a 105-67 edge in the regular season series, but haven’t been as dominant in the postseason with a 20-16 advantage. A large chunk of those Spurs’ regular-season wins have come in the past few seasons. In the past five NBA seasons, the Mavericks are 3-17 against the Spurs. The Mavs also haven’t beaten the Spurs in Dallas since March 24, 2015.
Peter Dawson: 817-390-7657