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Sunday, May 14, 2006
Updated: May 17, 3:39 PM ET
Nowitzki expects to play despite stiff, swollen ankle

Associated Press

DALLAS -- Robert Horry credits his career of clutch shots to a positive thinking class he took in high school.

And now would be a good time for the San Antonio Spurs to think positive.

Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki expects to play in Game 4 on Monday despite still suffering from the effects of the sprained ankle he suffered Saturday.
Because history doesn't favor the defending champions, who trail Dallas 2-1 in the second-round playoff series heading into Game 4 on Monday night. Since Tim Duncan's arrival in 1997, San Antonio has never rallied when trailing after three games.

Horry said Sunday his class was called "visualization" -- and he says he still sees the Spurs pulling this series out.

"You play for the moment," Horry said. "We're not thinking about where we are as far as the record in the series."

One thing the Spurs can think about is seeing Dirk Nowitzki in Game 4. The Mavericks forward said Sunday that he expects to play Monday despite swelling on the right ankle that he twisted in the closing moments of Saturday's thrilling 104-103 victory.

Nowitzki only shot free throws during practice on Sunday and said he's put ice on the ankle every two hours. He said the feeling remains stiff and that the pain is "up there" with other ankle injuries he's endured.

But asked if there was any way he would miss Game 4, Nowitzki said, "If I lose a leg."

Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said the team will know more Monday about his star's status. Johnson said he's confident in others picking up the slack even if Nowitzki -- who's averaging 27.6 points and nearly 10 rebounds in the playoffs -- isn't at full strength.

"We have other guys on this team who we think we can get a lot of production out of," Johnson said. "We've done it before, we've had to make those sort of adjustments, and we're prepared to do it again."

Nowitzki landed awkwardly on the ankle after driving to the basket and drawing a sixth foul on Tim Duncan with 1:05 remaining.

The play came toward the end of a frenetic finish in which the teams swapped leads throughout the final seven minutes before Nowitzki scored the winning points with two free throws with seven seconds left. He finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds.

San Antonio had trailed by 13 at halftime before storming back, which the Spurs took satisfaction in on Sunday. But San Antonio coach Greg Popovich made clear that he didn't think scoring points was the problem.

"Our bottom line is that our defense has not been good enough to date," Popovich said. "That's the bottom-line story for us. People score 100 points or more, we're probably going to lose that game. That's the way history has been."

History has also shown that, since Duncan arrived and led the Spurs to three championships, the Spurs haven't been able to come back when trailing a series after three games.

When the Spurs won their second title in 2003, they lost their series openers to Phoenix in the first round and Dallas in the conference finals. San Antonio wound up winning each series in six games.

But being down at least 2-1 is a hole from which San Antonio hasn't been able to climb back in the Duncan era. In NBA history, the team that has won Game 3 in a seven-game series has advanced 75.5 percent of the time.

For his part, Duncan can hardly be blamed for the Spurs trailing: in the three games so far, he's averaged 31.1 points and 11.3 rebounds.

"He's played like MVP Timmy throughout the playoffs," Popovich said. "Without that, we'd be in trouble."

Game 4 comes after a short break in the series after a three-day lull between Games 2 and 3. Game 5 will be Wednesday in San Antonio and Game 6, if necessary, will be back in Dallas on Friday.

It's a pace the Mavericks prefer. Guard Jason Terry, who's averaging 16.3 points in the playoffs, said the shorter time has kept mistakes fresh and made correcting those problems an easier task.

Even if a longer break would give Nowitzki more time to recover.

"He's a good decoy, even if he's out there one leg," Terry said.