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Nowitzki expects to play despite stiff, swollen ankle

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.

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.