With a playoff spot in sight, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks would love to finally beat the San Antonio Spurs regardless of who their archrivals might be missing.
Especially considering Dallas may get them in the first round.
Now the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history, Nowitzki will try to help the Mavericks halt an eight-game skid against the banged-up Spurs on Thursday night.
The magic number for both teams would have been down to one for this matchup in Dallas, but Memphis and Oklahoma City had other plans.
Had the ninth-place Grizzlies lost to Miami on Wednesday, the Mavs (48-31) could have wrapped up a Western Conference playoff berth with a victory. All San Antonio (60-18) needed to be assured of finishing with the league’s best record was a victory over Dallas and an Oklahoma City loss, but the Thunder held on to beat the Los Angeles Clippers.
While it’s highly likely the Spurs will get the West’s No. 1 seed, they might begin the postseason against a Dallas team which is in seventh but could still be caught by Phoenix or Memphis.
San Antonio is looking to pull off back-to-back season sweeps of the Mavericks for the first time since earning three straight from 1991-94.
Nowitzki has been held to an average of 15.4 points on 40.2 percent shooting during Dallas’ eight-game losing streak to the Spurs. Tony Parker has appeared in six of those matchups, averaging 22.0 points on 55.6 percent shooting, but he will sit out a second straight game Thursday due to a minor back injury.
Parker surpassed 20 points in all three meetings this season and the Spurs scored more than 110 in all of them, most recently winning 112-106 on March 2.
"They’re a very poised team," Mavs veteran Vince Carter told the team’s website after that game. "I mean, they know who they are, and they do a great job of executing."
That includes frustrating Nowitzki, who had 22 points in the last meeting but continually yelled at officials and exchanged some testy words with Gregg Popovich. The Spurs coach threw a variety of defensive looks at him, using Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard.
"He’s such a great player. Nobody stops him," Popovich said. "At least giving him a different look makes me feel better like I’m trying, like I’m doing something."
Nowitzki passed Oscar Robertson for 10th on the career scoring list Tuesday, reaching 26,714 points after getting 21 in a 95-83 victory over Utah.
"It feels kind of surreal, still," the 35-year-old Nowitzki said. "All night, I was trying not to think about it."
Nowitzki has gotten hot this month, averaging 24.4 points on 59.3 percent shooting and hitting 15 of 26 from 3-point range. He’s a major reason Dallas is coming off a 4-0 road trip and returns home looking to match its longest winning streak of the season.
The Spurs had won a franchise-record 19 in a row before losing two of their last three, including a 110-91 defeat to lottery-bound Minnesota on Tuesday.
"You can’t win every game," Diaw said. "We just wish we played better. Winning or losing, we just wish we played our game better."
San Antonio, though, was missing Parker and Manu Ginobili left in the third quarter with a left calf contusion. His status for this game is uncertain.
Tim Duncan should feel fresh after playing less than 20 minutes, and he’s averaged 20.5 points with 13.5 rebounds in the last four meetings.