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Fresh off West finals showdown, Spurs outlast Mavs in fourth

DALLAS (AP) -- Tony Parker was sore and Tim Duncan was
struggling. Yet there was no way the San Antonio Spurs were giving
up, not after six months of waiting to reclaim their edge over the
Dallas Mavericks.

It wouldn't be a Spurs-Mavericks clash if we didn't single out the head-to-head matchup between big men Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. The numbers favor the Spurs center, and for San Antonio, so do the outcomes.

 

Duncan

Nowitzki

Wins

18

10

Ppg.

22.7

21.0

Rpg.

12.2

9.3

FG Pct.

52.4

44.0

Source: ESPN Research

Parker shook off a sprained ankle to score 19 points and Duncan
scored only 13 points but had a key rebound and putback in the
final minute of the Spurs' 97-91 victory Thursday night in the
season opener for both Western Conference powers.

San Antonio trailed for most of the first three quarters, but
never by more than 10 points. The Spurs charged ahead over a 6:13
span in which they held Dallas without a point, then protected it
down the stretch with good defense and the same kind of errant
shooting by the Mavs that doomed them in their last games that
counted -- their four straight losses to Miami in the NBA finals.

"It was a hard-fought game," said Duncan, who had only five
points midway through the third quarter. "Neither team can claim
to have played a great game, but we toughed it out."

Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 points for Dallas and Josh Howard had
20. Both hit big shots to keep the Mavericks close in the final
minutes, but didn't get enough help.

Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer that would've put them ahead with
about a minute to go, then Duncan answered with a follow shot off a
missed dunk by new teammate Francisco Elson. San Antonio was hardly
threatened again, silencing a loud crowd, then sending many fans to
their cars with about 35 seconds left.

"We really lost our rhythm," Howard said.

While this game lacked the stakes of their second-round playoff
series that wasn't decided until overtime of Game 7, it still
featured more intensity than usual for an opener. Among the
made-for-TV moments:

• Howard was called for a flagrant foul on Spurs tough-guy Bruce
Bowen ("A situation happened where I got to protect myself,"
Howard said), and Elson got a technical for taunting when he
shrieked after a dunk ("All I did was scream!" he protested to
officials).

• Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before the game he'd be on his best
behavior, per the commissioner's orders, although he seemed heavy
on sarcasm, with lines like "going to the University of David
Stern." While he avoided joining team huddles, he couldn't
completely control himself, jumping up after a questionable foul
called on Nowitzki, making a shoving gesture and saying, "He
pushed him." He looked up at the replay, shook his head and
dropped to his seat. He later signaled double dribble on a non-call
against Parker.

• Official Jess Kersey was KO'd with a split chin before halftime
when a blocked shot bounced hard off the whistle still in his
mouth. He needed five stitches for the cut. He also was knocked
down hard earlier in the game.

"All the games with Dallas will be like this one. One team will
lose that just as easily could have won," San Antonio coach Gregg
Popovich said.

The Spurs felt that way in the playoffs, then had six months to
think about their narrow loss. That's another reason this game
carried more weight than the first of 82 games.

"We wanted to win really bad. But it's not the same as the
playoffs last season," said Manu Ginobili, who scored 16 points.
"The only thing that will make us forget is to have a great season
and play them again."

Bowen scored 13 points, but made things interesting when he
badly missed two free throws with 1:30 left. Elson had 12 points
and six rebounds and Michael Finley added 10 points. New starting
center Fabricio Oberto scored four points in 16 minutes.

Terry scored 14 points and Austin Croshere had 12 in his debut
as Nowitzki's backup. Croshere got off to a great start with a
3-pointer and dunk on his first two attempts.

Dallas went 19-0 last season when Howard scored at least 20
points, but is 0-1 now -- another reminder that things are already
different in 2006-07.

"We have a lot to work on," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said.
"We need to get it going again."

Game notes
After waiting until the third night to open their season,
the Spurs play four games in five nights. "I don't ever remember
it," Popovich said. ... Dallas had five subs on the court late in
the first quarter. And another top reserve, free-agent signee
Devean George, was home recovering from a stomach ailment that
hospitalized him Tuesday. "He's still woozy but at least he's
keeping some food down," Johnson said. ... Opening night glitch:
Instead of playing a song left over from the playoffs that jabbed
at the Spurs, arena operators played one jabbing the Suns. It was
shut off within seconds.