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Spurs must overcome history to beat Mavs

DALLAS -- The San Antonio Spurs have accomplished so much in
recent years that they needed something new to rally around this
season.

Their pick: Trying to become back-to-back champions for the
first time.

The mid-May update?

Well, now the Spurs are simply trying to avoid turning into
roadkill as they usually do in their non-title seasons.

In all five seasons that Tim Duncan hasn't won the NBA title,
the Spurs have been knocked out the first time they've faced
elimination. It can happen again Wednesday night when they lug a
3-1 deficit into Game 5 of their second-round series against the
Dallas Mavericks.

"At one point we were talking, 'We gotta repeat. We gotta
repeat,'" forward Robert Horry said Tuesday. "Now we're just
thinking about playing good basketball."

The Spurs have been good the last two games, but the Mavericks
have been better. Playing at home, Dallas won Games 3 and 4 in the
closing seconds, pulling out a 123-118 victory in overtime Monday
night.

San Antonio goes home for Game 5 carrying a three-game losing
streak, the longest in a season that featured a franchise-record 63
wins. How the Spurs respond in Game 5 will determine whether this
team deserves to be lumped in with the others that plummeted when
pushed to the playoff ledge.

"We feel good," defensive stopper Bruce Bowen said. "Guys'
attitudes are great."

"Amazingly," added Horry, "when we came in today, nobody was
down. Usually when you come in guys are complaining or moaning
about what's going on. Everybody was cheerful. Everybody is looking
forward to getting back out on the court and getting a win."

The last game was the best of a series that keeps getting
better.

San Antonio came out with Duncan and four players 6-foot-7 or
shorter, then ran circles around Dallas, with Tony Parker doing
most of the running. He finished with a career playoff-best 33
points, Duncan scored 31 and Manu Ginobili had 26 -- and it still
wasn't enough for the Spurs.

They nearly had a storybook ending with former Mavs star Michael
Finley answering two games worth of boos with a go-ahead 3-pointer
with 15.4 left, but reigning Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki forced
overtime with a pair of free throws, then Dallas' two point guards,
Jason Terry and Devin Harris, made key plays in the extra period.

As much as this series has lived up to its billing, the
Mavericks are eager to get it over with -- now.

"You never want momentum in a series to change," Nowitzki
said. "You saw it in the first round with Phoenix and LA. The
Lakers go up 3-1 and it looks like they had it wrapped. Then
Phoenix killed them in Game 5 and I think the whole momentum
changed.

"So we can't be satisfied or relaxed. We've got to go out with
the same energy and focus. We've got to show a killer instinct."

The Mavericks have showed it thus far, going 7-1 this postseason. The only
loss was by two points on the road. They've gone to overtime twice
and haven't trailed in either one.

Nowitzki has scored at least 20 points in every game this
postseason and in 36 straight games since Feb. 21. But he hasn't
been doing it alone against San Antonio. Dallas has had a different
leading scorer in every game.

The Mavericks also have held a rebounding advantage in all their
playoff games, something coach Avery Johnson pointed to with pride
Tuesday.

Still, it will take closing out the Spurs for him to sleep easy.

"As a coach, you're always thinking the other team is going to
come out and play the perfect game and yours isn't," he said.

Johnson also won't be swayed by San Antonio's recent playoff
history, some of which he was part of as the starting point guard.

The facts are interesting and a bit surprising for a team that's
won two of the last three titles and three of the last seven.

In games the Spurs have had to win to keep a series going,
they're 0-5, losing by an average of 13.6 points. San Antonio did
avoid elimination by winning Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals, but
that's a bit different because the series was ending either way.

The Mavericks' brief playoff history under Johnson includes
victories in their last two games when they could be the
eliminator. They won a Game 7 against Houston last year by 40
points and drubbed Memphis by 26 to close out a first-round sweep
this year.

"Hopefully," Dallas' Jason Terry said, "the next game will be
the last."