Best in the West: Spurs rally to beat Mavs

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Michael Finley is still being paid millions
of dollars by the Dallas Mavericks. On Thursday, he was money for
the San Antonio Spurs.

Finley scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter against
his former team, and the Spurs beat the Mavericks 98-89 in a
matchup of the top teams in the Western Conference.

"It's always good to go against your friends, especially when
you come out victorious," said Finley, who played nearly nine
seasons in Dallas before being waived last summer under the NBA's
one-time luxury tax amnesty provision. The Mavs still have to pay
off his $52 million contract.

With the victory, San Antonio leapfrogged Dallas into the top
spot in the West. Both teams have 45-12 records, but the Spurs hold
a 2-1 edge in head-to-head play.

The win was also the 500th for San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich,
who took over the team during the 1996-97 season.

San Antonio led by four after three quarters, but extended that
lead by shooting 11-for-19 in the fourth.

Dallas got it down to 94-89 with 46 seconds to play when Dirk
Nowitzki was fouled behind the 3-point line and made all three free

The Mavericks then started intentionally fouling the Spurs, who
made most of them to maintain their lead.

"I'm very disappointed with this loss," Dallas coach Avery
Johnson said. "We realize who we were playing, but then again we
gave them some easy baskets. We have just got to do a better job
with our defense."

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 23 points and Tim Duncan scored
15. Robert Horry, back after missing six games with an abdominal
strain, made two 3-pointers and finished with 12.

Jason Terry and Nowitzki each had 23 for the Mavs, who had won
six straight. Josh Howard added 15.

The 7-foot Nowitzki, defended most of the night by 6-foot-7
Bruce Bowen, shot only 6-for-15.

"He can put pressure on you knowing that he's got two 7-footers
right behind him," said Nowitzki, referring to Duncan and Nazr
Mohammed. "Every time I tried to post him up, they came with a
7-footer to help on the baseline."

Bowen said his strategy was to get a hand in Nowitzki's face and
to bump him to keep him off-balance.

"He's 7-feet, can shoot the 3 and can take you off the dribble,
so he creates a lot of difficulties on the matchups," Bowen said.
"A lot of bigs aren't quick enough to stay with him."

Manu Ginobili made a runner off the opening tip, but the
Mavericks ran off the next eight points and their defense did a
good job denying close-in shots to the Spurs.

Parker, one of the NBA's top inside scorers, started settling
for jumpers after Nowitzki pinned his driving layup against the
backboard early in the game.

A jumper by Keith Van Horn extended the Dallas lead to 22-11
late in the first, but the Spurs cut it to 30-29 with about 4
minutes left in the half when an emboldened Parker squeezed a layup
past Nowitzki's outstretched arm.

The Mavs hit the next three baskets to make it 36-31 before
Parker made a floater and then a fast-break layup to pull San
Antonio within a point with 1:14 remaining.

Dallas went up 46-40 early in the third on a follow by Nowitzki,
but the Spurs took the lead with a 13-3 run capped by a breakaway
dunk and a runner by Mohammed.

Nowitzki, defended by Ginobili, put the Mavs back ahead with a
three-point play and two free throws. San Antonio answered with a
3-pointer by Bowen and two foul shots by Parker to go up 68-64
after three quarters.

Game notes
Popovich's career record is 500-245 (67.1 percent). ...
Parker's first assist didn't come until late in the third, while
Terry's one assist was in the fourth. ... Dallas returns home to
play Charlotte on Friday night, the first of four back-to-backs
this month.