Dallas Mavericks: San Antonio Spurs

MavericksSoobum Im/USA TODAY SportsThe Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki and Spurs' Tim Duncan stayed loyal to their franchises.


The numbers were the only thing in doubt when it came to Dirk Nowitzki's negotiations, and even those were pretty predictable.

It’s fitting that Dirk’s three-year, $30 million deal will look a lot like Tim Duncan's. Those future Hall of Famers are two of a kind, a pair of historically elite power forwards for whom loyalty, competitiveness and unselfishness are all intertwined.

It’s commendable to be committed to spending your entire career with one franchise, a rarity in a sports world in which the first week of free agency seems to generate more interest than the NBA Finals. But these two faces of their franchises have sacrificed fortunes to significantly increase their odds of completing their careers on championship contenders.

Kobe Bryant showed a certain sense of loyalty with his commitment to play his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’ll also make more next season than the Mavs and San Antonio Spurs will pay Nowitzki and Duncan combined.

Duncan’s sacrifice, a shared one with longtime teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, paid off when the Spurs claimed their fifth NBA crown in June. Nowitzki’s sacrifice just gives the Mavs a chance to rebuild a legitimate contender, a process that requires at least a couple of big steps after he left about $17 million of cap space for Mark Cuban to spend this summer.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Nowitzki has taken much less than market value to stay with the Mavs. He could have easily gotten a max contract the last time he was technically a free agent, but he left $16 million on the table to sign a four-year, $80 million deal.

That sacrifice didn’t even free up cap space. It just eased a bit of the financial burden on Cuban, who had been paying massive luxury-tax bills. In exchange, Cuban vowed to never let money get in the way of the Mavs’ pursuit of a championship, following through by trading for Tyson Chandler in a salary-dump deal with Charlotte.

Less than a year later, Nowitzki and Cuban chugged champagne out of a $90,000 bottle that went on Cuban’s bill, a small price to pay for celebrating the franchise’s first championship in a Miami nightclub.

That taste of a title ensured that Nowitzki would be a Maverick for life.

If Dirk didn’t own a championship ring, if he hadn’t filled out that final line of his NBA legend résumé, he would have faced a difficult decision this summer. He probably would have agonized over whether to choose loyalty to a franchise and a fan base or the chance to leave his adopted hometown to chase a championship, a la Karl Malone.

But the championship banner hanging from the American Airlines Center rafters made Nowitzki’s decision a no-brainer.

The negotiations with Nowitzki, who has never employed an agent, were easy. Now, there’s a lot of hard work to be done for the Mavs’ front office to reward Dirk’s loyalty like the Spurs have done for Duncan.

One-on-one with Dirk: Scouting the Spurs

June, 16, 2014
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The San Antonio Spurs lost just four postseason games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat en route to their fifth NBA championship. With that fact in mind, many wonder how the Dallas Mavericks were able to force San Antonio into a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs. Some would say the Mavs gave the Spurs their best challenge throughout the playoffs.

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"I’m not sure if that was it or they hit their stride in Game 7 because they’ve been playing so well since then," Nowitzki said. "I actually think our coverages kind of caught them off guard and they weren’t ready for it."

After the Spurs secured the NBA crown with Sunday's Game 5 win over the Heat, Nowitzki congratulated them on their achievement:



The playoffs allowed Dallas to commit its undivided attention to slowing down San Antonio, which certainly helped its cause. It allowed the Mavs to catch the Spurs off guard, but there were other factors in play. The Spurs were able to clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in the final week of the season. With that in the Spurs' back pocket, coach Gregg Popovich could rest key players, essentially taking his foot off the gas. Even if that took place in a span of three to five games at the end of the regular season, it was enough time for them to lose their edge, causing them to look lethargic against Dallas.

"I just wanted to say what a great series it was and how difficult it was. I am certainly glad it is over," Popovich said after the series against Dallas. "It kept many of us up night after night trying to figure those guys out. [Coach] Rick [Carlisle] did a great job with his game plan. His coaches confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year.

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You probably won’t hear “Go Spurs Go” coming from Mark Cuban’s mouth, but he is rooting for the team that eliminated the Dallas Mavericks to win the NBA title.

Of course, Cuban has some ulterior motives.

The San Antonio Spurs winning two more series would make the Mavs feel even better about the way their season ended, pushing the top overall seed to seven games in the first round. More importantly to Cuban, earning a fifth championship ring might cause longtime nemesis Tim Duncan to decide to ride off into the sunset.

“I want San Antonio to win,” Cuban said on 105.3 The Fan’s “Ben and Skin Show” on Friday. “I want Tim Duncan to hit a game-winning shot to win Game 7, then go to the Finals, do the exact same thing, hit a game-winning shot in Game 7, run down the tunnel, never to be seen from again.

“I want him to retire on the spot. I hope he gets that last ring and it’s all the incentive he needs to retire.”
Nowitzki, Terry, HowardGetty ImagesThe Mavs' trio with the most playoff wins: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard with 28.
Tim Duncan has earned the right to be recognized as the premier power forward in NBA history, but he’s also had the good fortune of being flanked by a couple of fellow future Hall of Famers for most of his career.

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Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker made NBA history with the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Thunder in the West finals Monday night. It was their 110th playoff win together, matching the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper for the most ever by a trio.

When Dirk Nowitzki’s career is done, he might wonder what would have been if he’d enjoyed such continuity with co-stars.

Nowitzki’s tenure as part of a big three was too brief, broken up by the time he was 26 because Mavericks management believed that Steve Nash was too brittle to reward with a big contract. Nowitzki, Nash and Michael Finley restored respectability to the franchise, but that trio won only 18 playoff games together.

The Mavs’ trio with the most playoff wins: Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard with 28. That’s followed by Nowitzki, Terry and the immortal Erick Dampier with 25, and Nowitzki, Terry and Jason Kidd with 24.
Jose Calderon and Tony ParkerKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJose Calderon and Tony Parker battle for a loose ball in the first round of the playoffs.


SAN ANTONIO -- The Dallas Mavericks managing to push the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination seems even more impressive now.

After all, the Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t even force the Spurs to fuel up the team plane for a second trip, as San Antonio finished the series in emphatic fashion with Wednesday’s Game 5 rout.

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The Spurs, assuming Tony Parker's tight left hamstring heals by the time the conference finals begin next week, look every bit like the favorite to win the West for the second consecutive year. For that, they might owe a bit of gratitude to Rick Carlisle and the Mavs, who outwitted the Spurs to stretch the series to seven games, forcing Coach of the Century candidate Gregg Popovich and his veteran core to figure out ways to adjust.

"It was a great test for us," Parker said earlier in the series against Portland. "I think every time you play a Game 7 and you win, it gives you confidence. The team right now is doing good, but we know it can change real fast, so we just have to stay focused."

Poor Terry Stotts and Portland, a franchise that advanced to the second round for the first time in 14 years, never stood a chance. The young Blazers preserved their pride by avoiding the brooms with a Game 4 win, but the Spurs rolled by an average of 19.5 points in their four wins.

Perhaps the Mavs will be the equivalent of 2011 Portland to these Spurs. Those Blazers gave the Mavs their best test in the West playoff bracket. The Mavs made Portland’s 23-point comeback in Game 4 a rallying point, losing a total of only three games in the next three series before guzzling champagne in Miami Beach after claiming the franchise’s first title.

This is the drive for five for San Antonio, which came so close to earning its fifth crown last season. It seems the Spurs got a jump start from their old friends up Interstate 35.
SAN ANTONIO -- The eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks pushing the San Antonio Spurs to seven games served as a reminder that Rick Carlisle is among the league’s elite head coaches.

Just ask the man Carlisle calls the Coach of the Century.

“I am certainly glad it is over,” Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs’ Game 7 win Sunday. “It kept many of us up at night after night trying to figure those guys out. Rick did a great job with his game plan. His coaches confounded us. The players were great. It is a really good veteran team that was playing its best basketball here at the end of the year.

“I congratulate them. They were really tough and really good. The organization could be really proud of that group in a lot of ways.”

Carlisle’s creative defensive schemes caught the Spurs completely off guard early in the series. That allowed the Mavs to leave San Antonio with the series even after the first two games.

Popovich, the NBA Coach of the Year for the third time this season, eventually figured out all the smoke and mirrors. The Spurs’ offense hummed as usual in the latter stages of the series, but Carlisle’s coaching brilliance was one of the major factors in the Mavs making a competitive series out of what appeared to be a major mismatch.

“Rick Carlisle is one of the most clever guys around, and trying to follow all of his stuff is really difficult,” Popovich said. “That was the toughest part for us in addition to them playing so well.”
SAN ANTONIO -- This season cannot be described as a success for the Dallas Mavericks.

The franchise’s standards are far too high for that. As Dirk Nowitzki said after a scintillating first-round series with the San Antonio Spurs ended with the Mavs on the wrong end of a Game 7 rout, the standard was set in 2011, when the Mavs won a title.

So a 49-win season and pushing the West’s top seed to seven games can be a source of pride but isn’t a success in Dallas. However, it’s a big step in the right direction for a franchise whose arrow seemed to be pointing down after its dozen-year playoff streak ended last season.

The Mavs’ front office must make major strides this summer to give Nowitzki, an All-Star at age 35, a legitimate chance to chase a title during his golden years.

[+] EnlargeMavericks
AP Photo/Eric GayThe signings of Ellis and Harris, third from left, were among the Mavs' unexpected successes that the front office will look to build on this summer.
"I think if we keep this team together, we’re going to make a lot of noise next year," said Monta Ellis, last summer’s desperation signing, who proved a lot of people wrong by establishing himself as an electrifying sidekick for Nowitzki.

That’s the message owner Mark Cuban delivered to the Mavs in the AT&T Center’s visitors locker room after Sunday’s 119-96 loss. He stressed how much the Mavs value continuity after making major roster changes the past three offseasons.

The Mavs like their core. They want to keep it intact as much as possible and hope to re-sign Vince Carter, Shawn Marion and Devin Harris, key role players who are entering free agency, to reasonable contracts. Oh, and Dirk, too, but that’s just a matter of agreeing to the details of a deal that’s likely to end up resembling Tim Duncan’s discount contract (three years, $30 million).

"Mark and [president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson] and I all agree that the more continuity we can have going forward, the better," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It’s one thing that [the Spurs have] done so well here for so many years, so we’ll work to get back as many of these guys back as we can. We’ve got a lot of free agents. I’d love to have them all."

But the Mavs’ front office, which will have more than $30 million of cap space when free agency opens July 1, isn’t fooling itself into believing that this veteran-heavy roster just needs a little time to develop into a legitimate championship contender. The Dallas decision-makers are well aware that the Mavs need major boosts of length and athleticism.

Time is of the essence, considering the franchise player turns 36 this summer.

"Ultimately, the year we won in 2011, that’s the standard now," said Nowitzki, the Mavs’ unofficial assistant GM. "We obviously have high expectations. The fan base does, the organization does. We want to get back up there. However we need to do it, whatever needs to be done, Mark and Donnie are going to probably do it. We’ll see what happens."

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SAN ANTONIO -- Four times in his career, Dirk Nowitzki has experienced the ecstasy of Game 7 victory, once celebrating on the San Antonio Spurs’ home court.

Now, back at the AT&T Center, Nowitzki has to deal with the agony of Game 7 defeat.

"It’s awful," Nowitzki said after the eighth-seeded Mavs’ season ended Sunday with a 119-96 loss. "You can’t really grasp that your season is over now. It’s 3-3, and it’s anybody’s ballgame. It’s just one game and now your season’s over. It’s a tough one.

[+] EnlargeNowitzki
AP Photo/Eric GayDirk Nowitzki's Mavs pushed the Spurs to a seventh game but were ultimately knocked down along with each of the champs' other opponents.
"I’ll probably be proud of this team and what we did even to get to the playoffs in a couple of days, but right now, this one stings."

Nowitzki’s desire to win and competitive fire was evident on Dallas’ first possession of the game, when he drained a midrange jumper and let out a roar as he ran down the floor. It seemed distinctly possible at that moment that Nowitzki would have another epic Game 7 performance.

It was not to be, however.

Nowitzki missed his next five shots. By the time he made another one, Dallas was already down by double digits, with Spurs point guard Tony Parker driving and scoring seemingly at will.

Nowitzki finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, going 8-of-21 from the floor. That’s not a terrible day, but it’s nowhere near the standards of a future Hall of Famer who is one of three players in NBA history with three 30-point, 10-rebound performances in a Game 7.

It was a painful way to end a phenomenal season for the face of the franchise, who proved he could stay healthy and play at an All-Star level as a 35-year-old by averaging 21.7 points per game and accomplishing his goal of leading the Mavs back to the playoffs.

Now, Nowitzki enters free agency, not that there’s a lot of mystery there. It’s just a matter of Nowitzki and Mavs owner Mark Cuban working out the numbers on the contract he signs to stay in Dallas, the only NBA home he’ll ever know.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen as far as how much money we can pay him, but whatever it is, it won’t be enough because he has such high impact on everything that goes on with our team and everything that goes on with our organization," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "This is 30 years for me in the league, and I played with [Larry] Bird and I played with some great guys. There’s nobody that I’ve been around that carries a bigger load for an organization than Dirk Nowitzki.

"I can’t say in words how much respect I have for him and what he stands for and everything he’s done for this organization and for me in the last six years. And he’s got a lot of good years left. I think that’s pretty evident."

Nowitzki, who has claimed since last summer that he’ll take a significant pay cut, said it’s too soon to think about the details of the deal. A good guess: He’ll give Cuban a discount in the Tim Duncan range (three years, $30 million).

"That’s something we’re going to talk about way later," said Nowitzki, a 16-year veteran who has made more than $200 million in his career. "Right now, [I am] just disappointed that we lost a Game 7."

That’s a sickening feeling Nowitzki never knew until Sunday afternoon.

Early defensive hole too much to overcome

May, 4, 2014
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Dallas Mavericks’ defense stood strong in the first two games of the team's opening-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. They started to show signs of breaking down in Games 5 and 6. Their defense officially shattered into pieces in disappointing fashion early on in Game 7.

The message, as it has been all season long, was to make the defensive end of the floor the priority. They had to be dialed in on that side of the floor to have any chance to complete the miracle upset.

Instead, the Mavs ran into a buzz saw. They fell behind by as many as 14 points in the opening quarter and 29 just prior to halftime. Whether it was Tony Parker, Tim Duncan or Manu Ginobili, the Spurs were able to get whatever they wanted when they had the ball.

In the end, San Antonio’s big three combined to score 24 of their team’s 35 first-quarter points.

"We just got hit by a tidal wave early," Carlisle said after the loss. "They had their best game today. We just weren’t able to do quite enough to stay in it early."

After San Antonio’s huge surge, Dallas tried as hard as it could to battle back and stay within reach. The hill the Mavs had to climb continued to grow, but they continued to try. Dallas had answers in this series, mainly from its bench, to quell whatever surges San Antonio mustered in the series. Game 7 told a different tale.

"It just didn’t happen today. They kept piling on," Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "Whoever came in made shots for them. We never really could weather the storm. … The hole was a little too big."

It was clear that San Antonio was out to hit the Mavs first and put them on their heels. The message coming into the series was that Dallas had to match San Antonio’s level of intensity. If it wasn’t able to do that one more time, it would be in for a long Game 7.

"What we were trying to avoid all series happened tonight,” Mavs forward Vince Carter said.

Dallas made its decision to negate San Antonio’s ability to hurt it from 3-point range. That worked for the better part of the series, but the Mavs ultimately couldn’t stop the momentum being built as the series continued. Dallas allowed San Antonio to score 113.0 points per game over the final three games of the series.

With continuity being desired going into next season with their personnel, the Mavs will have to figure out the right balance of sacrificing offense in order to strengthen their disposition on defense.

Rapid Reaction: Spurs 119, Mavs 96

May, 4, 2014
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SAN ANTONIO -- An unexpectedly entertaining series ended with the San Antonio Spurs roaring to a 119-96 rout of the Dallas Mavericks in Sunday’s Game 7.

How it happened: Game 7 played out pretty much how most figured this series would go all along.

The top-seeded Spurs, who had dominated Dallas during a nine-game winning streak over their Interstate 35 rival, finally looked like the clearly superior team.

San Antonio’s Big Three -- the lone players still on the Spurs' roster who lost a home Game 7 to Dirk Nowitzki's Mavs in 2006 -- outscored Dallas by themselves in the first half. The Spurs shot 68.4 percent in the half, building a lead that ballooned to as large as 29 points.

The Mavs, starting the second half with a small-ball lineup with Nowitzki at center and Vince Carter at power forward, along with three guards, sliced the lead to 14. That was as close as this game got to being competitive.

Tony Parker finished with a game-high 32 points in 34 minutes, going 11-of-19 from the floor and doing the majority of his damage on driving layups. Manu Ginobili added 20 points, 5 assists and 6 steals. Tim Duncan scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting before resting all but 37 seconds of the fourth quarter.

Nowitzki, who fell to 4-1 in Game 7s during his career, led the Mavs with 22 points and nine rebounds.

What it means: The Spurs advance to play the Portland Trail Blazers in a second-round series that starts Tuesday night in San Antonio. The Mavs’ season is over, as they failed to make it out of the first round for the third straight year since winning the championship in 2011.

Play of the game: Nobody picked up Parker in transition as he dribbled up the left side of the floor, allowing him to get all the way to the bucket for a layup with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. That pushed the Spurs’ lead back to 19 points after the Mavs came out strong to start the second half.

Stat of the night: No. 1 seeds are 57-5 in the first round after the Spurs and Indiana Pacers survived Game 7s.
DALLAS -- Nothing makes Dallas Mavericks fans groan like seeing the San Antonio Spurs flop.

Manu Ginobili is a master of it. Tony Parker is pretty darn good, too. And Tiago Splitter certainly shows promise.

Not that the Mavs are completely innocent. Vince Carter had a flop in Game 6 that was Oscar-worthy. But the Spurs have done enough flopping in this series to make a full feature film.

Well, they've at least flopped enough for one bitter Mavs fan to make a three-minute lowlight reel and send it to ESPNDallas.com.

DALLAS – Before the sixth Mavericks-Spurs series started, Dirk Nowitzki took a trip down memory lane with ESPNDallas.com.

Nowitzki reflected on each Mavs-Spurs playoff meeting, going into great detail. You can read the whole post here, but his recollection of the 2006 Western Conference semis is especially interesting with the Mavs trying to repeat history by winning a Game 7 in San Antonio.

“Maybe the best over the course of seven games, the best series I’ve had in my career.

“Just felt locked in, felt in my prime and felt whatever coverage they’re doing, I can score on it. That’s how confident I was. What a great series.

[+] EnlargeNowitzki
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki called his overtime-forcing and-1 in Game 7 of the 2006 West semifinals one of the biggest plays of his career.
“We win both home games here and went up 3-1, but that’s just how good they are. They just keep coming. They win down there and it’s 3-2. We try to close out here, and they just keep coming. They make it 3-3. Jet [Jason Terry] was suspended for one of those games for a little [groin] clip, so that was tough.

“Then we go down there for Game 7 and it’s one of the greatest games I remember. We were rolling early. We were up 20 in the first half. Just everything goes -- Josh [Howard], Jet, Devin [Harris] driving, I was shooting it -- so it was great. Avery [Johnson] was like, ‘Hey, those boys are going to keep playing.’ Sure enough, it was almost methodically. They always come back. They get stops, they keep grinding and next thing you know ...

“I always remember Jet leaving [Manu] Ginobili on the wing when [Tim] Duncan was posting up on me, and he pulled the trigger. I looked when it was in the air -- boom! Bottoms! The place went absolutely nuts.

“Down three and I remember we had [32.9 seconds left], and I was thinking we were kind of in a similar situation in Game 6. We were down three and I shot a bad 3. I was thinking to myself and Avery even said it: ‘In this situation, don’t hoist a bad 3. Make sure you get to the basket. Anything can happen.’

“So I just spun and put my head down on [Bruce] Bowen and said, ‘I’m going to lay this in.’ We can foul again and at least extend the game. And Ginobili just left [Jerry Stackhouse] in the corner and came over and wanted to block it. I was able to kind of luckily muscle it over a little bit. It hit the rim and bounced in. That was probably one of the biggest plays of my career. Made the free throw.

“I don’t think I scored again in overtime. (He actually hit two free throws to put the Mavs up eight with 9.9 seconds left, giving him 37 points for the game.) The boys were great. We subbed in Gana [Diop] and he made some big stops on Duncan. He had one or two big offensive rebounds. Stack made two pull-ups, I remember.

“Yeah, that was a fun game, fun series for me. I mean, to win a Game 7 in that building is about as sweet as it gets in this league.”

Dirk Nowitzki dominates Game 7s

May, 3, 2014
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DALLAS – Few things make the face of the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise smile like a Game 7.

“It’s the ultimate thrill,” Dirk Nowitzki said after the Mavs pushed this first-round series to the limit with Friday’s Game 6 comeback win over the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. “It’s win or go home. Everything that happened before it is out the window. Nothing [else] matters.

“It’s just that one game. It’s great competition. It’s the ultimate competition. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”

[+] EnlargeTim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7s in his career and has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in those games.
Nowitzki is the ultimate Game 7 performer.

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Nowitzki put up a 31-point, 11-rebound line in his first Game 7, when the Mavs avoided going from up 3-0 to out by beating the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 West first round. He had 30 and 19 in a Game 7 win over the Sacramento Kings the next series. His least impressive Game 7 line – 14 points and 14 rebounds – came in a 40-point rout of the Houston Rockets in the 2005 first round, the most lopsided Game 7 in NBA history.

Then there was that classic overtime duel against Duncan in the 2006 West semifinals, the only time the Spurs have been knocked out on their home floor in a Game 7.

Duncan blew up for 41 points and 15 rebounds. Nowitzki had 37 points and 15 rebounds. Dirk’s driving and-1 forced the game into overtime, and the Mavs prevailed.

“It’s going to be a game of runs and you’ve just got to weather the storm sometimes,” Nowitzki said when asked how that Game 7 experience in San Antonio might help him prepare his teammates for this massive challenge. “That game, we were up 20. Next thing you know, [Manu] Ginobili makes a 3 and we were down 3 in the last minute. You’ve just got to play every possession.

“In the playoffs, that’s what you focus on. In a Game 7, you don’t want to think ahead. You don’t want to think about your next shot. You just worry about your next possession. You play this possession as hard as you can. … You got to stay in the moment.”

Take it from a guy who has risen to those moments as well as anyone in NBA history.

Calderon breaks nose in Parker collision

May, 3, 2014
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DALLAS -- Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon suffered a broken nose in the second half of Game 6 on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.

The injury occurred when Calderon was defending Tony Parker's drive to the basket with 8 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter. As Calderon leaned in to go for the ball, his nose collided with Parker's left shoulder.

"It is what it is," Calderon said of the injury.

[+] EnlargeJose Calderon
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports"It was a little tough to breathe in the second half," Mavericks guard Jose Calderon said of suffering a broken nose in Game 6.
Calderon subbed out of the game during the next dead ball, which didn't come until the 8:13 mark of the period.

Mavs head athletic trainer Casey Smith looked at Calderon, but it was quite evident that a serious injury had occurred as blood came pouring out of the point guard's nose. Calderon went to the locker room to get X-rays on the nose, which ultimately revealed the break.

"It was bad luck that he got hit when he did because he was playing so well on both ends," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was hitting shots. Sometimes, these things happen."

Despite the injury, Calderon returned to the bench and came back out on the floor at the 4:22 mark of the period. After returning, Calderon scored three points, coming off a crucial 3-point basket that got the Mavs back to within one with 10:16 to go in the fourth.

"It was a little tough to breathe in the second half," said Calderon, who had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, six assists and five rebounds in the Game 6 victory. "That's why I asked for a sub, because I couldn't breathe out there.

"I hope I'm better in Game 7. I think we were trying to stop the bleeding, so there was a lot of stuff up my nose. I think it was that more than anything else with the breathing."

With the team not scheduled to practice Saturday and traveling to San Antonio, it will be up to the team's medical staff to determine if Calderon will need to wear a supportive mask in Sunday's crucial Game 7.

"We'll see the doctors, and we'll go from there," Calderon said.
Tim Duncan, Dirk NowitzkiRonald Martinez/Getty Images"It's the competition we've got to embrace," Dirk Nowitzki said of pushing the top seed to Game 7.

DALLAS -- Is this series seriously headed back to San Antonio for a Game 7?

Didn’t believe the Mavs could make this a competitive series, huh? Hey, no hard feelings.

“Well, I can’t really blame any of the so-called experts, you know?” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said after scoring 22 points in the Game 6 win that extended Dallas’ season at least two days and pushed San Antonio to the brink of becoming the first franchise to be eliminated twice in the first round as a top seed. “We looked terrible against them the last couple of years, and they had our number. Who would have thought that’s going to change in the playoffs?”

Believe it or not, the Dallas Mavericks indeed have positioned themselves to pull off arguably the biggest playoff upset in NBA history.

Sure, there have been 8-over-1 upsets with much more lopsided regular-season victory margins between the teams, leading with the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors knocking off the 67-win Mavs in 2007. But the Warriors gave the Mavs fits in that regular season. The 1994 Denver Nuggets at least split their series with the Seattle SuperSonics. The 2011 San Antonio Spurs and 2012 Chicago Bulls had wounded stars when they were top seeds to exit in the first round. And the 1999 New York Knicks-Miami Heat series might as well have an asterisk, considering it came after a wacky 50-game lockout campaign.

But these Mavs beating a healthy Spurs squad that cruised to the best record in the NBA? Only those on Mark Cuban’s payroll or those who bleed Mavs blue could have possibly imagined this coming.

After all, it felt silly to still call this an Interstate 35 rivalry, considering how routinely the Spurs routed the Mavs during the nine-game winning streak San Antonio had over Dallas entering the series.

However, that feels like ancient history now. It’s irrelevant after the Mavs rallied to beat the best closing team in basketball Friday night, pulling off a 113-111 victory at the American Airlines Center after a Monta Ellis-fueled comeback in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeMonta Ellis
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMonta Ellis scored 12 of his game-high 29 points in the final five minutes Friday.
The Mavs provided some pretty strong hints about the drama to come in this series by splitting the first two games of the series in San Antonio, blowing a double-digit lead late in Game 1 and bouncing back to blow out the Spurs in Game 2. The Mavs made it clear that this series was going to at least be competitive by pulling off a miraculous Game 3 win when sixth man Vince Carter hit a buzzer-beating 3 from the corner.

After the Spurs responded by winning the next two games, nobody would have looked down on the Mavs if they bowed out Friday night. They’d put up a more than respectable fight against the team with the NBA’s best record.

It seemed almost certain that Dallas’ season was destined to end when the Spurs took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter and stretched it to seven just seconds later. The Spurs had gone 55-1 in games they led entering the final frame this season.

Make that 55-2. And get ready for Game 7 on Sunday in San Antonio, a contest the Mavs are confident they can win.

“Why not us?” Mavs owner Cuban said, repeating the mantra Carter hollered in the locker room after the emotional win. “Why not us?”

The Mavs have too much pride to be proud about just pushing the mighty Spurs to seven games.

“We’ve always made this about winning the series,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who has resorted to all sorts of unconventional defensive schemes to deal with all the mismatches the Spurs present the Mavs. “Look, we don’t give in to lower standards. That’s just not how I’m put together and that’s not how our organization is. Guys have competed well, but we’re not there yet.”

Nowitzki and Shawn Marion might be the only players remaining from the 2011 title roster, but the rest of the Mavs’ veterans came to Dallas because they believed this franchise could contend for another title.

That didn’t change because the Mavs had to fight to get to 49 wins and claim the West’s final playoff spot. The Mavs have convinced themselves that battle for a berth has given them an edge, giving them weeks of experience in high-stakes games.

No doubt that it’s a heck of a lot better than getting a mid-April vacation, as the Mavs did last season when their temp-filled team snapped Dallas’ dozen-year postseason streak.

“You could say, ‘Who wants to go in the playoffs as an eighth seed?’” Nowitzki said. “But you’re one of 16 teams that’s got a shot at it. That’s how you have to look at it when you’re trying to get in. And it’s fun to be on the big stage against the best team in the regular season. It’s the competition we’ve got to embrace.”

The Mavs have earned the right to be part of the “the ultimate competition,” as Nowitzki calls Game 7s.

The Mavs gave themselves that opportunity by having Ellis explode for 12 of his 29 points in the final five minutes Friday night. Dallas did it by having third-string center DeJuan Blair come roaring back from his Game 5 suspension with a 10-point, 14-rebound, four-steal, hair-on-fire kind of effort.

They did it by playing some of their best defense of the season in this series. They did it by having their top eight players take turns playing a starring role at some point in a series that will last three games longer than a lot of those so-called experts anticipated.

And the Mavs aren’t done yet.

“Let’s go out there and shock the world,” Carter said. “Let’s go out there and show that we can compete with the best team.”

Nobody can question whether the Mavs can compete with the Spurs. Satisfaction won’t come unless they win Game 7.

At this point, would that stun anybody?

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Dirk Nowitzki
PTS AST STL MIN
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsS. Marion 6.5
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksB. Wright 0.9