SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t had many open shots in the first-round series against San Antonio. Tony Parker usually gets chased all over the court by Dallas defensive ace Shawn Marion.
The German forward and the French point guard sure look like top priorities for the opposing defense in a series tied 2-all heading into Game 5 on Wednesday night.
And both teams are winning without dominant games from their leading scorers in the regular season.
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”They have a lot of guys on their team that are first priorities,” Dallas’ Vince Carter said. ”It’s not just one. Trust me. Whoever has the ball is probably the first priority.”
Carter had a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Game 3. Boris Diaw put the Spurs ahead with a shot from long range in the final minute of a Game 4 win.
Monta Ellis has been tough for San Antonio to stop in the second half of games. Spurs reserve guard Manu Ginobili has two of the four highest-scoring games in the series.
Parker has virtually disappeared since scoring 17 points in the first half of Game 3, and now he’s dealing with a mild left ankle sprain that appeared to happen in Game 4, when he had a series-low 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
”He didn’t have a great game by any means, but it happens. He’ll be fine,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. ”I don’t think the same guys are going to play great every night in a series.”
Nowitzki hasn’t been shut down completely. His scoring has steadily increased in the series, topped by 19 points in Game 4.
Still, the 7-foot sharpshooter has been held under 20 points in four straight playoff games for the first time since his first postseason in 2001. And he’s not getting any freedom at the 3-point line. He has just five attempts in four games, and has made one.
Nowitzki missed all three tries from long range in Game 4, and was short on a rare open mid-range jumper with the Mavericks up by one late.
”He’s missed some easy bunnies that I think he’s rushed because now when they’re open he’s like, `Oh, man I’ve got to get it up,”’ Carter said. ”He beats himself up over it. He’ll play through it. He’ll be fine.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is aware that the sight of Nowitzki with the ball and room to operate has been rare.
”I’m working to try to help get him more,” Carlisle said. ”In the playoffs, a lot of the game comes down to playing out of flow. When we’re doing it well, the ball moves and it moves through the hands of the best players as much as possible.”
Parker’s mid-range jumper was surprisingly off target in Game 4, and he even missed a couple of layups when trying his other specialty – getting to the rim.
Popovich said Parker was day to day with a Grade 1 sprain, the mildest. No MRI or X-rays were planned, an indication that he will be out there trying to match his Game 1 showing. He came up limping at one point Monday night but kept playing.
Parker finished with 21 points in the series opener, including the go-ahead basket on a spinning layup during a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter.
”If Parker’s having some down stretches, it probably means we’re busting our butt and doing a good job on him,” Carlisle said. ”But when the Ginobilis and (Tiago) Splitters and Diaws make plays, that means that we aren’t getting it done in some other areas.”
The question is whether either team can win the series without something resembling dominance from Nowitzki or Parker. Nowitzki says the Mavericks might have to.
”They are just taking my air space away,” Nowitzki said. ”That’s what the good teams have done the last couple of years. If it’s not there, I’m going swing it and let someone else make a play.”
That approach has actually worked for both teams in a series boiling down to a best of three.
Mavericks center DeJuan Blair has been suspended for this game for kicking Splitter in the head Monday. Blair is averaging 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the postseason.