The Dallas Mavericks (7-20) will host division-rival San Antonio Spurs (19-8) at the American Airlines Center for the final time in the regular season Tuesday night.
Head coach Rick Carlisle’s team has played better in recent weeks, and their past three losses have all come on the road against teams that should make the playoffs. The Spurs, on the other hand, have won their past four games in a row, and currently sit comfortably in third place, trailing only the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Standings.
Greg Popovich rested many of his starters on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday, and his squad still managed to pull out a 104-101 road win over the Phoenix Suns. Star forward Kawhi Leonard is targeting his regular-season debut against Dallas Tuesday. Leonard has been sidelined this season with a quad injury.
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Last season, Leonard finished third in the NBA MVP race behind the Rockets’ James Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Due to a difficult quad injury in last year’s Western Conference Finals, the talented forward hasn’t played in a game this season.
The Spurs have managed to stay towards the front of the pack in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. That being said, this group just has a different look when Leonard is in the lineup. Popovich will likely take things slow with his team’s best player, but even if Leonard only plays 15 to 20 minutes against the Mavericks, his elite athleticism, scoring ability and defensive prowess could still make things difficult for Dallas.
Spurs rounding into form
Last Friday night, the Spurs and Boston Celtics might have played the best game of this NBA season. San Antonio went down early and had to survive 36 points by Boston’s Kyrie Irving. The Spurs countered with big strong performances from Manu Ginobli and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge led his team with 27 points and 10 rebounds, shooting over 50 percent from the field. Yet, Ginobli somehow managed to steal the show. With the game tied and just a few seconds remaining, the sharp-shooting veteran sunk a three-pointer to give the Spurs the 105-102 win.
Mavericks hungry for a win
The Mavericks are still trying to notch a win over their division-rivals this season. In recent years, the Spurs have dominated this series, having won 19 of the past 22 meetings between these two teams.
The Mavericks have been without superstar rookie Dennis Smith Jr. in the past two games because of a hip strain. It’s unknown if he’ll return on Tuesday.
It doesn’t help that the Spurs are playing undoubtedly their best stretch of basketball this season, having won 10 of their past 12 games that includes wins over the Celtics and Detroit Pistons, two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
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Mavericks vs. Spurs
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, FSSW