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Mavs' close win solidifies Spurs' No. 3 seed for playoffs

DALLAS -- Losing a tense, physical, emotional game to their
top rival and being forced to settle for the third seed in the
Western Conference was bad enough for Tim Duncan and the San
Antonio Spurs.

Even worse: Duncan is convinced official Joey Crawford is out to
get him, with a brawl possibly needed to settle things.

Crawford hit Duncan with two technical fouls just 1:16 apart
late in the third quarter of San Antonio's 91-86 loss to the Dallas
Mavericks on Sunday. The second came while he was laughing on the
bench and meant an automatic ejection, just the second of his
nine-year career.

"He looked at me and said, 'Do you want to fight? Do you want
to fight?"' Duncan said. "If he wants to fight, we can fight. I
don't have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I
have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, 'Do
you want to fight?"'

The Spurs sorely missed their top player down the stretch,
failing to score a basket over the last 6:32 while allowing a 9-0
run to end the game. The loss ended their hopes of catching Phoenix
for the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage if they meet in the
second round.

While this was a thrilling game between Western Conference
powers, the story of the day turned out to be Duncan vs. Crawford.

"He came into the game with a personal vendetta against me,"
said Duncan, who had 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two
blocks in his limited action. "It had to be because I didn't do
anything the entire game. I said three words to him and the three
words were, 'I got fouled' on a shot. ... That's all I said to him
the entire game."

Crawford disagreed, saying that "he was complaining the whole
game."

"And then he went over to the bench and he was over there doing
the same stuff behind our back," Crawford said. "I hit him with
one (technical) and he kept going over there, and I look over there
and he's still complaining. So I threw him out."

Crawford spoke to a pool reporter before Duncan spoke to the
media. Asked about Duncan not thinking he deserved to be tossed,
Crawford said: "That's his opinion. He said nothing when he was
walking off the court and he called me a piece of (expletive). Is
that nothing?"

San Antonio had won six straight and was on a 12-1 roll. The
only loss came against Indiana -- another game that Crawford worked
and another game that he rang up a T on Duncan.

"I kind of imagine it stemmed from that," Duncan said. "I
don't have a problem with Joey. Obviously he's got a problem with
me."

Teammate Bruce Bowen, who also got a technical from Crawford in
the third quarter, couldn't believe his superstar teammate was
tossed, especially for something so mild.

"Do I think it was deserved? No," Bowen said. "For a former
MVP of the league, a guy that doesn't curse out the officials like
I hear some of the other guys cursing out the officials, I think it
was unfortunate that he was dealt this blow."

Said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: "My beliefs will be shared
privately, not with (reporters)."

Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris each scored 21 points in a game
the Mavericks may have used as their dress rehearsal for the
playoffs. They won for the 66th time this season, tying the 1970-71
Milwaukee Bucks for ninth-best in league history. They also sealed
their home record at 36-5, tying the best in franchise history.

Because the only intrigue left to the season is who Dallas will
face in the first round and when, coach Avery Johnson rested
various top players over the past five games. Not this time, even
though he said before the game that he'd be watching players'
minutes. Fans realized Dallas was going all out when Nowitzki
returned from a long rest early in the fourth quarter, cheering
loudly.

Part of the motivation was that the Mavericks wanted to bounce
back from a lackluster home loss to Utah.

"We didn't want to lose two in a row at home so we went for
it," Nowitzki said. "We kept on fighting to win the game."

His jumper off a rebound tied the game at 86 with 1:15 left. On
San Antonio's next series, Manu Ginobili drove past Greg Buckner
but Josh Howard was there to strip the ball. Buckner took it all
the way for a layup and the lead with 50 seconds to go.

Bowen missed a jumper from the left side on the Spurs' next trip
and Jerry Stackhouse made one of two free throws. With San Antonio
down by 3, long-distance ace Brent Barry got the ball but had to
put up a long, wild heave. Harris made a pair of free throws to cap
the last possible meeting between the teams until the Western
Conference finals.

The Mavericks knew they dodged a break by avoiding Duncan the
last 13-plus minutes.

"It was a big momentum shift," Dallas' Jason Terry said of the
ejection. "They needed him down the stretch. They needed him to go
to."

Dallas won the season series 3-1, taking the last three. This
was the first game won by the home team.

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 23 points. Ginobili scored 16,
but the Spurs scored their fewest points since March 17. They had
scored at least 109 the previous four games.

Howard had 15 points and six rebounds. Stackhouse, playing only
for the second time in five games, scored 14.

Game Notes
Dallas center Erick Dampier missed his third straight game
with a shoulder injury. ... San Antonio has 58 wins with two games
left. The Spurs are trying to reach 60 for the fourth time and
third in five years. ... Dallas finished the regular season with
234 consecutive sellouts. They drew a crowd of 20,444, some of whom
were returning hours later for an NHL playoff game between the
Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks.