Mavericks fighting Spurs for sixth place in Western Conference

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are in a fight with the Spurs for the sixth spot in the Western Conference. 

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks and Spurs are in a fight for sixth place in the impossibly tough Western Conference. The Mavs (45-27) wants tonight’s 7:30 tip in San Antonio to reflect what happened on Tuesday in Dallas, when the home team won. The Spurs  (45-26) want the same positive result they’ve gotten in eight straight regular-season visits by the Mavs.

"We’ve got to play harder," Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki said of trying to beat the Spurs again, as they did in Tuesday’s 101-94 win. "If your rotations aren’t crisp, if you aren’t up on their shooters, then they have you every single way… Especially at home, they’re really, really good. We have to be ready for a battle."

A quartet of keys to the duel:

1. Dallas is a team that, well, "doesn’t do the whole points-in-the-paint thing." The Mavs are 20th in the NBA in this category, with an average of 41 points per. 

But on Tuesday, the Mavs scored half of their total points (52 of 101) from inside, hit 26 of 45 shots taken from the paint and were a nifty plus-14 from what the Spurs produced in the paint. Interior production happened against this same bunch on Tuesday. 

Even against Tim Duncan and company … can it happen again?

2. There are only seven players in the NBA averaging 17 points, six rebounds, 45-percent shooting, 37-percent on 3’s and one assist.  Nowitzki is one of those. He’s doing it in four fewer minutes per game than the other six on the list as he tells "Father Time" to back off for a bit … as Spurs veterans Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have also done so successfully.

3. On Tuesday, Rajon Rondo played the first six minutes of the fourth quarter and sat the rest of the game, presumably in a preemptive strike to keep San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich from utilizing Hack-a-Guy. It’s probably going to happen again tonight. And while the Mavs have their worries about "chemistry" and pouting and moaning and displeasure, one way to keep the band together is to keep the best players on the floor. That can include – but not if he’s going to continue shooting 34 percent on free throws.

4. San Antonio is struggling to handle scoring guards. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving scored 57 on March 12. New York’s Langston Galloway and Alexey Shved combined for 43 points on March 17. On Wednesday. the Spurs blew out OKC while holding Russell Westbrook to 16 points. But that came one night after Monta Ellis had scored 38 – the same total he had against the Spurs earlier this year.

"Too much Monta tonight, don’t you think?" joked Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle late Tuesday, with a play on a Mavs meme. 

The Mavs could use just the same amount of everything from Tuesday in Dallas. The Spurs could use just the same amount of everything they usually have against these visitors to San Antonio.